December 14, 2005

Plan to cut Turin Games funding sparks protest

ROME (Reuters) - Plans by Italy's cash-strapped government
to cut financing for the Turin Winter Olympic Games have
sparked outrage from the government's sports supremo and the
city's mayor.

A government amendment to the 2006 budget currently before
parliament proposes to cut 64 million euros ($77 million) of
financing from the February 10-26 games, posing the latest in a
series of financial hurdles the organizers have had to

"It's certainly not easy to work like this," Mario
Pescante, culture ministry undersecretary and the government's
special commissioner for the games, said in an interview on
Wednesday with Turin daily La Stampa.

The cut to the Olympic funding is one of a bundle of budget
amendments due to be approved on Thursday in a confidence vote
in the Chamber of Deputies.

However, Pescante said the 64 million budget cut was "a
misunderstanding" on the part of the Treasury and he was sure
the money would be reinstated in due course.

"The Treasury's plan ... will have to be changed because
we've made commitments internationally and we must defend our
image abroad," Pescante said.

"We have invested three trillion of our old lire (1.5
billion euros) in the Turin games, so you can imagine if we
will be put off by a missing 64 million euros," he added.

Turin's center-left city mayor, Sergio Chiamparino, said
the budget amendment was "a low blow, an extremely serious
betrayal of (the government's) commitments."

Former governor of the Piedmont region, Enzo Ghigo of Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said he had
spoken on Wednesday with powerful Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni
Letta and was sure the issue would be resolved.

"We will find a way to resolve this latest funding problem.
Many times before the government has intervened in cases of
financial and organizational difficulties encountered by the
organizing committee," he said.

The government's draft budget, which was presented in
September, aims to cut the 2006 deficit by some 16.5 billion
euros to 3.8 percent of GDP from a targeted 4.3 percent in

The package must be approved by both houses of parliament
by the end of the year.