France & Italy - defy Islamic State and bring 2024 Games to Europe

2016 Rio Olympics - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 04/08/2016. France's President Francois Hollande is pictured during the welcoming ceremony for the country's contingent. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - French and Italian leaders made rival pitches to host the 2024 Olympic Games on Friday, but carried the same message: choosing Europe to host the Games would reaffirm its liberal Western values in the face of deadly attacks by Islamist militants.

A spate of attacks in France and the threat of further ones across Europe have spooked the continent, casting doubt over the Olympic candidacies of Paris and Rome.

But French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, making separate pitches at the Rio Games, argued that the world's biggest sporting event should be held in Europe as a strong statement of defiance against Islamic State.

"Values are the best response to the challenge the world faces today and will continue to face tomorrow," said Hollande, lauding the French republic's motto of "liberty, equality, fraternity" and citing the diverse ethnic make-up of Paris.

"The response, if I may say, is Paris," he added, flanked by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and some of France's top athletes, include judo competitor Teddy Riner.

In the past three weeks, an Islamist drove a truck through crowds in Nice, killing 85 people, and two attackers stormed into a church in a small town in northern France and killed a priest by slitting his throat with a knife.

Renzi echoed Hollande's remarks in his pitch for Rome.

"If they don't achieve the result of killing the people, the second-best goal for these crazy men, women, terrorists is ... (to) give us a life of fear," he told reporters, arguing that it was important not to be cowed by Islamist fundamentalists.

"Some fundamentalists forbid soccer, music, sport ... If they hate music, we will invest more money in music. If they hate soccer or other sports, we believe this is our identity."

Renzi also faced questions over the weak and indebted Italian economy and Rome's ability to host the Games, whose size and cost has ballooned in recent decades.

Rome campaigned briefly for the 2020 Games but pulled out after the government said it could not offer the necessary financial guarantees. Now the government is willing but Rome's new mayor, Virginia Raggi, is not convinced.

Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, has said she is against making a bid because the city had other priorities and should not add to its prodigious debt.

But the vice mayor, who is also responsible for sport, has since suggested city hall might hold a form of consultation to gauge whether Romans are in favour of hosting the Games.

Los Angeles and Budapest are also in the running to be 2024 hosts.

The International Olympic Committee will select a host in 2017.

(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Edditional reporting by Isla Binnie in Rome)

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