Short on Funds, Greek Athletic Federation Suspends Operations



    Blaming deep cuts in government funding, Greece’s track and field federation has voted to stop operations, although the country still plans to send a full team to the Olympics in London later this year – at least for now. With Greece in a crushing economic crisis, many state agencies have undergone cutbacks to go along with pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the coming firing of 150,000 state workers as conditions of international aid. The athletic federation said a track meet planned for May 12 has been cancelled and the board will meet again later this month to consider whether it can send athletes to meet outside the country, saying unless the government reverses the cuts, the organization could shut down for good.

    “(We) call on the sporting leadership…to intervene and avert the economic dead-end and the disintegration of track and field,” the federation said in a statement. Federation President Vassilis Sevastis told The Associated Press his agency suspension was the only choice because deep cuts in state funding have left coaching staff and suppliers unpaid for months. He said the federation was unable to cover its basic needs. “The cuts in funding for the federation, last year and this year, are so extensive that they do not allow us to cover our basic needs,” Sevastis said. “We can’t do our job properly.” Unless money is restored, the decision could also lead to Greek athletes missing the European Championships in Helsinki this summer. The Hellenic Olympic Committee declined to comment on what impact a suspension would have on Greek competitors heading to London.

    The decision came only a month before Greece holds the Olympic flame lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia in southern Greece for the London Games. The country said it couldn’t afford it, but sponsors stepped in to avert the embarrassment of  being unable to get the torch out of its own country. Although the relay is not a Greek idea, it started by the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin as a propaganda too.

    The hybrid government of PASOK Socialists and New Democracy conservatives who are at odds with each other is nearly in limbo until elections. Tentatively scheduled for May 6, elections will take place for a new leader to replace interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, appointed five months ago to replace then Premier George Papandreou, who resigned after constant protests, riots and strikes against austerity measures. The Parliament is due to stop work next week which could effectively halt many government decisions until the elections.

    Athletic federation officials said its budget was cut by nearly a third in 2011 and by a similar amount in 2012. It has about $8.7 million to spend this year, but hasn’t paid coaches and other officials for up to 10 months. “Around two million euros ($2.7 million) was cut last year – that’s money we owe to athletes, coaches, sporting associations and suppliers. After more cuts were brought in this year, we’re at a dead end financially,” Sevastis told the AP. “We want the government to reverse its decisions.” Several high-profile athletes have complained, meanwhile, that training facilities created for the 2004 Athens Olympics have been poorly maintained due to funding cuts.