Olympics

IOC president Bach looks to Italy, US for 2024 bids

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ROME (AP)

New IOC president Thomas Bach is pleased with the Italian government's support for a 2024 Summer Olympics bid and said it's ''time for the United States to present a strong bid.''

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Bach is in Rome for the European Olympic Committees general assembly and meetings with Pope Francis. He also visited with Italian Premier Enrico Letta.

''The prime minister appeared to be interested in a bid from Italy for `24, because he has realized that the games can serve as a catalyst for development for a city and a country,'' Bach told The Associated Press on Saturday.

While Rome has not yet been officially selected, the capital - which hosted the 1960 Games - likely would be Italy's candidate.

Other potential 2024 bids could come from Paris; Doha, Qatar; and cities in Africa and the United States.

''I think it's time for the United States to present a strong bid,'' Bach said. ''And I'm happy to hear that the USOC is undertaking everything to prepare such a bid.''

Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington are among the cities that could present a U.S. bid.

USOC chairman Larry Probst attended the EOC meeting in Rome as the Americans attempt to boost their presence and influence in Olympic circles.

Probst was chosen an IOC member in September.

The USOC, which brings more money than anyone to the Olympic movement in the form of sponsorship and TV revenue, hasn't hosted an Olympics since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The country's last Summer Olympics were in Atlanta in 1996.

Italy's last Olympics were the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

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Rome was the first city to declare its candidacy for the 2020 Games, but then-Premier Mario Monti refused to provide government financial backing and the bid was dropped.

However, Letta voiced strong support for a 2024 bid in a speech at an Italian Olympic Committee meeting 10 days ago and again after meeting seeing Bach.

''The Italian bid could become something definitive,'' Letta said after meeting with Bach on Friday. ''It's not just a simple possibility.''

Bach also visited the pope both individually on Friday and again Saturday with a large delegation from the Olympic assembly.

With numerous other high-profile IOC members also in Rome - such as Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the influential Kuwaiti who heads the Association of National Olympic Committees - Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago called the two-day assembly ''satisfying from every point of view.''

''I really think we showed strong signs of credibility,'' Malago said. ''For them to be here and touch things that we take for granted with their own hands was very special.''

While Italy's financial situation has not improved since Monti's rejection, with the country's economy still in recession, senior Italian IOC member Mario Pescante said the Olympics would spur a turnaround.

''Our country needs this,'' Pescante told the AP. ''The principal problem for our country is to convince a defeatist public opinion - and rightly so defeatist - considering the way we react to any big event, whether it's an earthquake or what not.''

Fears of rampant corruption play a big role.

''People need to stop saying `We can't do it,' added Pescante, who stepped in as a special commissioner for the Turin Games. ''If we continue not to build anything because we're afraid of the Mafia, the country will commit suicide. ... We need to offer a strong signal that this story is finished, that we're not a population of thieves. This is the biggest challenge and an Olympics could overcome that.''

Meanwhile, 10 weeks after his election, Bach is also pressing forward with his campaign to reform the bidding process - starting with the detailed dossiers that bidders complete at the outset.

''From most of them (it's) always the same answer because they all answer the way they think we want to hear,'' Bach said. ''I would like to invite the potential bidding cities to tell us how they think that the Olympic Games would fit best in their social and natural environment. It depends on diversity and creativity for them to say how they see it.''

Earlier this month, voters in Bach's home country of Germany rejected a proposed Munich bid for the 2022 Winter Games, citing financial and environmental concerns.

For British Olympic Association chairman and 2012 London Games organizer Sebastian Coe, the two keys for the bidding process are making sure as many cities as possible want to join and engaging with the local communities.

''The most demanding stakeholder that you have are the people that you're delivering these games for,'' Coe said. ''Once you've focused on the needs of the athletes, the next most important group are the people in those communities that you are delivering the games for.''

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