By Massimiliano Di Giorgio
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Olympic Committee has officially withdrawn its bid to stage the 2024 Games in Rome after the city council voted to oppose the candidacy, committee chief Giovanni Malago said on Tuesday.
Clearly upset by having to pull the plug on his ambitious project, Malago said Italy had not only been made to look stupid by backing out at this late stage, but had also missed out on a golden opportunity to attract badly needed foreign investment.
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"Today I wrote a letter to the International Olympic Committee in which we have broken off our candidature for the Olympic Games in 2024," Malago told a news conference.
"Do you realize what fools we have made of ourselves at an international level?"
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi announced last month that she would not back Malago's drive to put on the sporting extravaganza, saying that staging the Games would bury the Italian capital under piles of debt and tonnes of cement.
Raggi's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which took control of Rome in June following a landslide victory in local elections, had repeatedly flagged its opposition to hosting the Games, arguing that the city had more pressing concerns.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government had supported the bid and the broader Rome municipality, which includes an array of small town councils, had indicated it was ready to put its name to the project in an attempt to bypass the 5-Star veto.
But Malago, who met Olympic chiefs last week, made clear he was not going to forge ahead without the full backing of the main city council.
"We cannot do any more than we have done. As of today, the bid committee is officially liquidated," he said.
His announcement means only Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest are left in the running to stage the 2024 Games. The IOC is due to make a decision next September.
A spokesperson for the IOC said the organization had taken note of Rome's decision, adding: "All the circumstances and the information we have received in the past days clearly demonstrate that this is about Italian politics."
Rome's withdrawal, following Boston and Hamburg also abandoning their 2024 bids, represents a blow to the IOC as it is struggling to convince potential host cities that it is worth all the disruption and cost to put on the sporting event.
Rome also applied to host the 2020 Olympics, but pulled out of that race in 2012 because the then prime minister, Mario Monti, was worried heavily indebted Italy could not afford it.
Those games were eventually awarded to Tokyo.
With the new prime minister backing the project this time around, Malago had been confident of success. On Tuesday, he said putting on the Games would have created 177,000 jobs.
Looking to salvage ties with the IOC, Malago said he had offered to host the organization's main meeting in 2019 in the northern Italian city of Milan.
"This is the first step towards rehabilitating Italy after this unacceptable interruption," he said.
(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio, additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, writing by Crispian Balmer, editing by Steve Scherer and Pritha Sarkar)