Italy legislates to save its place at the Olympics

Italy legislates to save its place at the Olympics
Italy legislates to save its place at the Olympics

Here is a story that will be told to those who relativize the importance of the Olympic thing: this Tuesday, the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was about to resign, but he still found before that time to dispel the threat that hovered over Italy’s participation in the Tokyo 2021 Games.

Read also: Italy facing the risk of exclusion from the next Olympic Games

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had gone back up since a law adopted on December 30, 2018 had amputated the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) of part of its prerogatives. One of the most important, the allocation of grants from the Olympic movement, had escaped him in favor of a new agency called Sport e Salute and directly dependent on state authorities. Which swore with the autonomy required by the Olympic Charter.

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The IOC, through the pen and voice of its President Thomas Bach, sent Giuseppe Conte several warnings, but they remained unanswered. Until, this Monday, the imminence of a radical sanction begins to rustle in the arcana of Italian sport. No flag, no anthem in Tokyo. For qualified athletes, a neutral banner, like the “Olympic athletes of Russia” engaged in Pyeongchang in 2018, following the doping scandal in the country. And then the specter of an end to funding for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, if not the withdrawal of their organization …

A decree, urgent

On Tuesday, Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said that “given the long and glorious sporting and democratic history of our country, it was unlikely that Italy would be so severely sanctioned”. But still: it was about not taking the risk. A decree was therefore adopted as a matter of urgency so that the independence of CONI is again assured. Even if the text has yet to be validated by the parliament, the IOC has already announced that it will take it into account in its consideration of the situation. In short: Italy should not be worried.

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The exclusion of its flag and its anthem for reasons of political interference would not have been a first in history. Athletes from Kuwait (2012 and 2016 Olympics) and India (2014) competed under the Olympic banner because their countries violated the expected autonomy of their national Olympic committees.

“This principle is inherited from Coubertin, who had imagined it so that sport does not fall under the control of either the State or the Church,” recalls the specialist in Olympism Jean-Loup Chappelet. It was then engraved in the Olympic Charter in 1949 for fear of instrumentalisation by the communist regimes in the East. And even today, its merits are recognized by the Council of Europe. ”

Cherishing the autonomy of sports organizations, to which the man devoted a book in 2019, is therefore “a good thing” according to him. But he recognizes that it is sometimes only a facade, as far as France where the statutes of sports federations must be based on a model validated by the Ministry of Sports. They are therefore not completely free to do what they want.

“Two weights, two measures”

This is also the point of view of the historian Patrick Clastres, who did some little research to support his point.

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The president of the Qatar Olympic Committee? Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, younger brother of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. That of China? Gou Zhongwen, also director of the General Administration of Sport in the country. In Thailand? General Prawit Wongsuwan, former Minister of Sports and current Deputy Prime Minister. “How can we say that in these few cases the autonomy of the authority vis-à-vis the State is fully respected?

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The IOC has never looked at the statutes, and not the personalities leading the structures. For me, there are therefore two weights and two measures on this question. ”

In December, the Lausanne-based body banned Alexander Lukashenko from the Tokyo 2021 Olympics for “failing to adequately protect Belarusian athletes from political discrimination”. But the strange mix of genres of a leader who was also president of the National Olympic Committee was not in itself.

In the Italian case, the stake was for the IOC to demonstrate its capacity for sanction even in the great Western democracies. And to defend its stranglehold on international sport, which is largely based on the central role of the national Olympic committees. On the one hand, they are the only ones authorized to qualify the athletes for the Olympic Games. On the other hand, they make their receipts trickle down to the national federations and their clubs. “This function of redistributing the money of the Olympic movement ensures the influence of the IOC on the organization of sport in all countries”, affirms Patrick Clastres. Hence the fear of seeing the system called into question …

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