Government decree saves Italy from Olympic suspension

Snow falls on the Olympic rings. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

ROME — The Italian government pushed through a last-minute decree Tuesday providing more autonomy for the country’s Olympic committee in an effort to prevent the team from being suspended for the Tokyo Games.

It was one of the final acts of Giuseppe Conte’s government before the premier headed to the presidential palace to offer his resignation amid an unrelated political crisis.

The International Olympic Committee’s executive board had on its agenda Wednesday whether to impose a humiliating probation on Italy because of a two-year domestic dispute that it said amounted to government interference.

After the decree was approved, Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago immediately called IOC president Thomas Bach and both parties expressed their "satisfaction" over the development.

"Over the last two days all of the big athletes called me asking what to do," Malag? said. "They were prepared to come to Rome (and protest) in front of Palazzo Chigi (the premier’s office)."

"I was very worried. I saw the days passing by and I was stunned that people were not grasping the gravity of the situation," Malago said. "Over the last few days, though, everyone began to understand — from public opinion to the country’s leaders."

The IOC had taken issue with the Italian government’s formation of an organization, "Sport e Salute," that was created at the start of 2019 to run the country’s sports finances. The money was previously controlled by an arm of the country’s Olympic committee, which is known as CONI.

"The cabinet has approved a decree containing regulations that provide autonomy for the Italian Olympic Committee," Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said.

"Considering the long and glorious sporting and democratic history of our country it was improbable that Italy would be sanctioned," Spadafora added. "But today’s decision removes every doubt and resolves the issue of CONI’s independence."

The decree should give CONI more control over its employees and training centres.

Possible punishments from the IOC could have included preventing Italian athletes in Tokyo from wearing their national team uniforms and from hearing their national anthem being played.

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