Exclusive - Q&A with Rome 2020 Olympic Bid Chair Mario Pescante

(ATR) "Competing for the Games is a minefield," the man due to be introduced hours from now as the leader of Rome’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics tells Around the Rings.

(ATR) IOC vice president Mario Pescante, due to be introduced hours from now as the leader of Rome’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, tells Around the Rings the Italian capital will fight hard, bringing along a legacy of history and a good infrastructure already in place.

Pescante’s name surfaced Monday after Ferrari president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo turned down the Italian government’s offer to head the panel. A formal announcement on the composition of the bid leadership is planned for Wednesday as part of Rome's two-day "state of the city" program.

A former head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Pescante was appointed IOC Permanent Observer at the United Nations last year. He also holds the post of chairman of the International Relations Commission.

Pescante, 72, joined the IOC in 1994 and was elected to a four-year term as a vice president in 2009. He is also a deputy in the Italian Parliament.

Speaking to ATR hours after being tapped, Pescante said that while his name was the last one to come up, he still felt it was his duty to accept the bid’s leadership.

Around the Rings: How did you get appointed? Why did you take the job and why not from the start?

Mario Pescante: From the beginning, I have been working to find the right person to lead the bid and have presented a list of possible candidates, including Montezemolo, all of whom were authoritative personalities who contribute to project a successful image of Italy abroad.

Montezemolo is a very pragmatic man … he asked for some guarantees, both financial and political, and after 24 hours, he decided that he did not have them. At 9 a.m. the next day, I went to the government’s office, and they came up with my name.

I had gone to try and solve the situation, and instead I received a unanimous proposal, supported by all of them – undersecretary Gianni Letta, finance minister Giulio Tremonti, CONI president Giovanni Petrucci, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno and even Montezemolo.

I also asked for some time to do a quick survey because the secret for a successful candidacy lies in securing the widest consensus possible, especially now that the political moment in Italy is a bit delicate. I’ve spoken to several representatives of the opposition, and it went quite well. I had no reason to say no, first as a sportsman, and then as a political figure.

ATR: How will this assignment affect your IOC responsibilities such as the International Relations Commission?

MP: I spoke to Jacques Rogge to say that if there were an incompatibility I would resign as IOC vice president, a move that would have to be approved by the Assembly. The issue was then looked into by the Ethics Committee, which found no conflict of interest. I will not take part in sensible votes, if necessary.

ATR: Will it be difficult for Rome or other bids to compete against a bid from South Africa, which will have high emotional appeal?

MP: The list of countries that is forming at this stage is still quite long, as we have some time before the event. As we get closer, we will have a shortlist of the best candidates.

Right now, we can say that Tokyo presented a great dossier. They have the advantage of having some of the work already done and that their economy is doing well, so they have financial guarantees, and the people and the government are standing united behind the bid.

Then there’s India – it could be that Mumbai comes forward.

As for South Africa, there’s an IOC session scheduled to take place in Durban – this has to mean something.

Finally, there are a number of possible European bids from St. Petersburg to Paris to Madrid, to Istanbul. In this scenario, competing for the Games is a minefield, and it takes a candidacy that is widely supported since the beginning to be able to overcome every obstacle.

ATR: Why Rome for the 2020 Olympics? What are its strong points?

MP: When we say we’ll host the 2020 Olympic Games in Rome, we are aware that we’re talking about the 21st century, about modern Games. This means that we aren’t only trying to play up the notion of Rome’s beauty, its central spot in the history of the world or the importance of its archaeology, but all of that still remains an important legacy that we wish to carry with us.

The last Games in Rome were also the last Games with a human dimension, and they carry special memories such as the performances of athletes such as Cassius Clay, Livio Berruti or even seeing the two Germanies, still opposed at the time, march together.

They were also Games during which the Olympic Village was open to the public, to those who wanted to come visit it.That’s why I say we want to bring the Games back to the people.

As far as logistics go, we will use most of the stadia that have been reactivated with the soccer or the swimming championships as well as the city’s big and new infrastructure, such as the Fiera di Roma area and its pavilions. Some minor adjustments remain to be done, but it’s not going to be much.

ATR: What is the immediate job ahead for the bid? Create a plan? Hire staff?

MP: Yes, we’d like to put together a committee of experts not linked to the bid committee to carry out a revision and an evaluation of all costs and funds to get a clear idea about the finances involved, especially in this difficult financial moment, and present it to both Italy’s parliament and the public opinion.

We are aware that these are tough times economically, but we also hope that the global situation will get better. These are the Games of 2020, and this is an investment for the future.

With reportingby Marta Falconi.