Following blistering complaints from athletes and sports federation leaders that budget cuts had decimated Greece’s sports program, the government has promised to put up another 11 million euros ($14.4 million) to keep the organizations from shutting down.
Some of the money will go to rowing, one of the sports in which Greece excels, especially at the 2012 London Olympics that was a disaster for the Greek team which had one of its worst showings in years. Last month, world championship silver medalists Nikos and Apostolos Gountoulas quit the sport, complaining that elite athletes could no longer afford to compete for Greece because of funding cuts.
The budget for Olympic sports federations has been slashed by 50 percent year on year since 2010, while cuts of between 60 and 80 percent were due to be put into effect for 2013 under the country’s austerity measures that are affecting a number of sectors.
A total budget of 14.5 million euros )$19 million) was officially announced last week but, after meetings between Hellenic Olympic Federation (HOC) officials and sports federation heads, the government had agreed to provide more funding to help between 300 and 400 federations, Sports Minister Giannis Ioannidis told reporters.
He said mistakes had been made in previous budgets and many federations had serious economic problems. “Unfortunately in the past there have been many favors done in the drawing-up of previous budgets, but I am not a person who does this,” he said, referring to the country’s notorious reputation of getting politically involved in sports, including picking inferior athletes who are well-connected with politicians.
“We arrived halfway through the year and we could not change the way the budgets were shared out at that point … now we will make sure that the money goes to where it is needed most. We can’t give money to all 5,000 federations but to the 300-400 which are creating growth. The most successful last year was rowing. We have no obligation to help that federation but we have to do it and we will. Sport is an investment,” he said, according to the newspaper Kathimerini.
HOC president Spyros Capralos, re-elected for a second term this month, had warned that several federations could close down because of the funding cuts. The cash-strapped athletics federation (SEGAS) has suspended its operations twice in 12 months in protest at cutbacks in state funding since 2008.
Water polo and swimming have also suffered, with Greece pulling their swimmers out of the European short-course championships at the end of last year for the first time in 16 years. Nikos Gountoulas, who with his twin won four European titles, said of their decision to give up after 13 years in the sport: “We’ve reached the point at which we simply can’t continue without economic support (from the state).”
The government also withdrew 190 million euros ($249.2 million) of funding for accommodation projects for the Mediterranean Games, which were supposed to be held in Volos and Larisa this year but were moved to Mersin in Turkey instead.