Venice: Seconds after Rio de Janeiro was announced as host of the 2016 Olympics, Venice mayor Massimo Cacciari seized the chance to put his famous but unlikely city in the frame for 2020.
A Madrid Games straight after London 2012 would almost certainly have ended any hope of a third straight European victor, but Rio's win over the Spanish capital opened the door.
"Venice is an iconic city, unique in the world, which enjoys universal recognition," Cacciari told reporters while Rio's bid team were still jumping up and down in delight at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress in Copenhagen earlier this month.
Fearing Venice had stolen a march and captured the public's imagination by planning the world's greatest sporting event in the northern city of canals, other Italian bidders quickly registered their interest.
Officials in Rome, Summer Games host in 1960, confirmed they would look to bid, having already indicated a willingness if Madrid missed out on 2016. Palermo and rumblings of a proposal from southern city Bari followed.
Rather than get excited by the enthusiasm of his countrymen, Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) president Gianni Petrucci scratched his head at the rash nature of it all.
"This doesn't look good abroad. It's not enough just to hold a news conference to put yourselves forward for an Olympics," he told reporters.
"There are as many Italian cities bidding as there are pizzas in Naples."
Italy can have only one bid for 2020 so Petrucci must now whittle down the contenders while hoping no more cities announce their candidature without telling him.
The biggest difficulty for Venice, Bari and Palermo is convincing Petrucci their cities are big enough to be hosts.
Sicily's capital Palermo is the largest of the three with around 658,000 inhabitants but no city so small has held the Summer Games in modern times.
Hotels and transport links are two of the major hurdles the city would have to overcome to convince Petrucci, let alone the IOC when a decision is made on the 2020 hosts in four years' time.
Following on from Rio becoming the first South American country to win the Games, the Italian hopefuls believe the time for smaller cities has arrived -- especially with the economic crisis forcing London 2012 to downsize plans slightly.
Support for the view that the Olympics can be done on a budget and not necessarily in a mega-city has come from a potential rival.
Japanese provincial cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki want to bid jointly for 2020 as a sign of solidarity for a nuclear-free world following the atomic bombs which destroyed them in 1945.
Their proposal shows that wanting to host the Games offers marketing benefits even if a city never comes close to winning.
Venice mayor Cacciari admitted as much but believes that by also using the neighbouring towns of Treviso and Padua he can find the right formula. Watery Venice, a city with very few roads, has no real space for a main stadium.
"The Olympics is the biggest international event and to promote and organise the 2020 Games would allow the city and the whole metropolitan area to accelerate numerous regeneration projects," he said.
Capital Rome would not have a problem convincing authorities it was big enough and, being central, it might avoid the usual rich-North-poor-South wrangling which dominates Italy.
Other issues could loom up, though, not least the image of the big city overpowering the smaller ones.
May's European Champions League soccer final was held in Rome but there were fears of violence following a number of stabbings outside the stadium in recent years.
The match passed off relatively peacefully and two months later the city hosted the world aquatics championships.
Competitors and spectators enjoyed the event but behind the scenes all was not well.
The worlds are over $14 million in debt and authorities are probing alleged illegal building practices linked to the event.
They faced a race against time to complete facilities for July's showpiece and had to use flooded tennis courts as pools, while the organising committee president threatened to quit.
Italy, also bidding for the 2016 European soccer championship, hosted a reasonably successful 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and will hope its quick start in planning for 2020 will pay dividends.
First, though, the country has to pick one city and stay united, which is no easy task.
First Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009, 12:10