Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bravo Monti!

In 22 years that I’ve been living in Italy I can safely say that I’ve only worked at two events that have come off like a Swiss watch: the 2005 funeral of Pope JPII (I was NBC’s interpreter) and the December, 1999 FIFA Gala in Rome when both Maradona and Pele’ came to receive their World Player awards (n.b. FIFA is a Swiss international sports organization)! In the former case, the mayor of Rome back then was Walter Veltroni. Leaving aside the millions of pilgrims that had come to Rome to see the body of the old Polish Pope, everything ran very, very smoothly, but just because BEHIND Veltroni and the City of Rome was the Vatican, and the Vatican in front of a few billion people who watched that same funeral on tv and with dozens of heads of state who showed up (Bush Sr,, Bush Jr. and the Clintons, just to name a few), well, Rome couldn’t put on a brutta figura (a bad image) in front of the entire world.

I also worked at the disastrous Genoa G8 Summit in 2001 (when protesters totally gutted the entire city) and at the 2006 European Special Olympics held in Rome. I was in charge of the 55 heads of delegation that had come to Rome for those same games. Memorable was it when in my office I had a dog running through my legs (yes, the real live version with 4 legs)! The dog belonged to the boss, who was the daughter of a big-shot in Rome’s local sporting community. Naturally, no one could tell her anything because otherwise… My office resembled Grand Central Station, TOTALLY chaotic and with a mutt running around between my legs too! Unable to properly work in those conditions, I got up and left the job…

Bravo instead for Italy’s PM Mario Monti who said NO to Rome’s candidature for the 2020 summer Olympics. It would be just one HUGE financial “quick sand” (the same just happened a few years ago when Rome hosted the world swimming championship. Money was sucked up with facilities that have been left to rot) with the usual corrupt politicians, businesspeople and the Mob siphoning off millions and millions of Euros, Euros which could perhaps be spent in a much better way (such as providing toilet paper in many Italian hospitals, or paper for photo-copy machines in many Italian schools which can’t afford it. Some parents even have to provide the paper for their kids)!

Just look at past events such as the 1990 World Cup held in Italy (I had been Korea’s interpreter in Udine during that event). Some twenty-four workers died rebuilding some of Italy’s (still) decrepit stadia, not to mention costs that ballooned WELL over estimates, as in the case of Rome’s Olympic stadium (the big boss then of the Italian Olympic Committee, a guy by the name of Gattai, was accused of mishandling funds. From the 80 billion liras to refurbish the stadium the total cost ended up being some 220 billion liras!). Then there are also venues which were built and weren’t even ever used, such as the Vigna Clara subway stop in Rome (I think it had been turned into a disco and then into a Ping-Pong center!), or the Ostiense Air Terminal (the old Ostiense train station is where Mussolini had greeted Hitler upon his arrival to Rome). That was affectionately called the “Beaubourg of Rome” (what an INSULT to the real one in Paris!). Rome officials, under then mayor Franco Carraro (I think he got caught up in the 2006 soccer scandal in Italy), had estimated some 1 million passengers would have gone through that Air Terminal during and after that World Cup event. Well, that didn’t materialize, and after just 1 year, the place was shut down (it got eventually turned into a disco and then a “haven” for the homeless. I think the place is now frequented by Afghan refugees!).

Some also believe that the current economic woes in Greece can be traced back to the 2004 Athens Olympics. While the Games themselves were rather successful, many stadia are now simply “White Elephants”: just totally abandoned and with incredible costs to Greek taxpayers (a good example of mismanagement is also what happened in the case of the 1976 Montréal Olympics. Poor Québec taxpayers ended up paying for those Games for years through a special cigarette tax. The Olympic stadium there, affectionately known as the “Big O”, finally had its retractable roof (back then the VERY first in the world!) working only some 12-13 years AFTER the event took place)!

Given the current and rather drastic economic situation in Italy and the rest of Europe (if Greece does exit the Euro, what’s going to happen to the rest of us?), do we REALLY need to spend a kazillion Euros on something that by 2020 we don’t even know if a) we really need and b) if any of us in the “Old Europe” will still be alive and kicking (n.b. some U.S. Embassies in Europe a few weeks ago had already warned their citizens to brace themselves for social unrest in some European countries. After all, if folks can’t afford to eat and to feed their loved ones, where on earth are they going to get the money in order to survive, except perhaps engaging in an armed conflict in order to overthrow the powers-that-be who can’t seem to change things, as in Greece’s case)?

Other than the two events I mentioned at the start of this post, I STILL have to work at a large major event in Italy that has gone off WITHOUT a major hitch!