By Duncan Mackay

Jury Chechi_with_microphoneJanuary 31 - A row has broken out between two of Italy's greatest-ever athletes after former gymnast Jury Chechi hit back at claims by Pietro Mennea that Rome should not bid for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics because of the country's current economic crisis.

Mennea, the 1980 Olympic 200 metres champion, had urged Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti not to endorse the campaign because the country is "devastated by a scary economic crisis" and that Rome should wait to bid instead for the 2024 Games.

But now Chechi, the Olympic rings champion at Atlanta in 1996, has written an open letter to Mennea which has been published in Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera

"[The] 2020 Olympics represent a great opportunity not just for Rome, but also for our entire country and for the Olympic Movement," wrote Chechi, who also won a bronze medal at Athens in 2004 when he carried Italy's flag at the Opening Ceremony. 

Jury Chechi_carrying_flag_at_Opening_Ceremony_Athens_2004
"Pietro is right when he talks about the gigantism that now threatens the modern Games.

"But it is in fact Rome, thanks to a plan that I know in every detail that can at last give life to a truly sustainable Olympics, free of white elephants and more 'human'.

"This is exactly what Mennea says he wants.

"Rome has the chance to start a new era: 75 per cent of venues already exist.

"We would only need to build two new facilities: the velodrome and the rowing course.

"This approach has nothing to do with the multi- billions spent by Beijing for sports venues that were then left unused, including the famous Olympic Stadium."

Rome officials are currently waiting to see whether Monti will give the go-ahead for the bid.

He has promised to make a decision before the cities who want to bid for the Games - who also include Baku, Doha, Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo - have to deliver their Applicant File to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on February 15.

Jury Chechi_performs_during_Turin_2006_Opening_Ceremony
"I am fully aware of the difficulties that Italy is going through and I thoroughly understand our Prime Minister Mario Monti's prudence," wrote Chechi, who launched the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin when he hit a golden anvil (pictured).

"Indeed, I'm proud of it.

"But I would also add that now is precisely the time to look forward.

"For 2020 we only have a few adversaries and none of them are unbeatable.

"What's more, we can count on an important political presence inside the IOC and, it should also be said, we have Rome and the whole of Italy to offer.

"The idea of pushing forward the bid by four years is a theoretical exercise; the conditions and the competition for 2024 could be very different and could make the going much more difficult.

"I believe I can speak on behalf of many Italian athletes that have, like me, lived through the Games  - a unique experience that leaves a permanent mark - and that Olympic spirit that I truly hope could prove contagious for all Italians.

"This is why I say: let's aim without a doubt for 2020."

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