London 2012 - Greek hopefuls to rely on IOC handout
Greece's Olympic hopefuls will be forced to rely on handouts from the International Olympic Committee following state cutbacks in funding for their London 2012 preparations.
Just six years after hosting the Olympic Games, the Greek government has decided to halt funding for the country's elite athletes preparing to compete in London.
The decision, which follows the austerity measures put in place to deal with the Greek economic crisis, has forced the Hellenic Olympic Committee to seek aid from the IOC's Olympic solidarity program.
"We had an agreement with the government for funding totalling 30 million euros over four years," HOC president Spyros Kapralos told Reuters.
"But, after receiving 8 million euros in 2009, we have received zero this year due to financial difficulties, and what I would characterise as indifference for elite sport from the state.
"This is not only extremely disappointing and frustrating but it creates huge problems for both the athletes and HOC."
After securing funding from the IOC to cover the expenses of five elite athletes and the women's water polo team in the summer, the HOC recently announced that it had managed to get financial aid for a further 17 athletes following a special request from Kapralos to IOC president Jacques Rogge.
"I explained the situation regarding the leading sports to Mr Rogge and told him that the government had stopped funding," Kapralos said. "It is a huge boost for the athletes that the IOC have offered to help. It's not so much the amounts involved but the moral support they are getting."
Athletes such as gymnasts Lefteris Kosmidis and Vlassis Maras, who won gold on the horizontal bar at the 2010 European Championships in Birmingham, and world judo champion Ilias Iliadis are included in the 17, as is 400 metres hurdler Periklis Iakovakis. The athletes were selected on the basis of their performances this year.
But while Kapralos was delighted with the IOC's decision, he is concerned for the future.
"The amounts may not be hugely significant but it is essential to help them in their preparations for 2012," he said.
"The big worry though is we don't know yet what will happen next year. The IOC have agreed to help us for now but this is not a solution to the issue."
Kapralos is critical of the way that past governments have dealt with the issue of funding for sport and believes the state's current policy will do significant long-term damage.
"Elite sport faces huge problems in Greece because previous governments have reduced incentives," he said.
"In some cases in the past, athletes were rewarded by way of entry into universities and jobs in the public sector. Those incentives, which do not cost the state money, have disappeared and this is really hurting elite sport.
"I think we will see the results of this in the next few years. Many athletes are not seeing much benefit of participating, especially when they see things like this happening. Instead, many are opting to focus on getting a job or finishing university instead of competing.
"It takes a lot of time, sacrifice and effort to develop elite athletes and if you stop the process then it takes many years to build it up again."
Having secured Greek airline company Olympic Air as a sponsor, Kapalos said the HOC was continuously investigating ways to raise money through other private investors. The state-run betting company OPAP is also an organisation HOC have targeted for sponsorship.
"Before OPAP became listed we did receive some funds from then but up to now we haven't seen anything concrete," Kapralos said of OPAP, which has been privatised but is still part-owned by the state.
"There has been neither a 'yes or no' answer and it is something that we are persisting with. They sponsor several football teams, even in the lower levels, so from a prestige point of view I am hopeful they will think hard and take the view that nothing could give them more pride than being a sponsor."