Italy’s ability to compete at next year’s Summer Olympics could be compromised following a new sports law that was recently passed by the Italian Senate. Following the passage of the new law, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued a warning to Italy’s Olympic Committee advising of a possible Olympic exclusion last Tuesday, August 6th. This becomes more significant given that Milan and Northern Italy were awarded the hosting duties for the 2026 Winter Olympics, which could be at stake if the conflict isn’t resolved.
The approval of the new and controversial law has prompted the IOC to send a letter to Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI) expressing its concerns.
According to the new law, the government would be authorized to reorganize the Italian Olympic Committee, its activities, and its internal organization. CONI’s previous government funding is now to be divided between the Olympic Committee and the newly-formed Sport e Salute company, which is entirely state owned by the ministry of economy, that distributes the income from state funds and financing. In essence, this gives the Italian government greater control over how much money goes to CONI and how that money is used.
CONI has historically been primarily funded by the Italian government via a scheme that includes revenues from sports betting, television rights, tickets for soccer (football) matches, and other sports-related ventures. The annual CONI budget has been around 408 million Euros (457 million USD), but this year, CONI will receive around only 40 million, while the rest will be funneled through the new entity.
The new law also states that the Italian Olympic Committee’s activities and responsibilities would depend on the government. The new law further indicates the federations that make up the Italian Olympic Committee should abide by the government’s statutes, rather than the Olympic Charter and the International Federation (IF) with which they are affiliated. Lastly, Italy’s government would have specific control over the Italian Olympic Committee’s financial activity.
Countries have been banned from Olympic participation for government interference in the past, including Kuwait at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The athletes were still able to compete under the Olympic flag. Kuwait had a relatively-small roster of 9 athletes in 3 sports at the 2016 Olympics, including 2 swimmers Abbas Qali and Faye Sultan. Italy sent 312 athletes in 24 sports to the 2016 Olympics, and likewise represent a much larger commercial and television market than Kuwait, which would make a similar arrangement much more challenging logistically for the IOC.
FULL LETTER ISSUED BY THE IOC
“The International Olympic Committee writes to the Italian Olympic Committee before the final draft of the decree was approved. And in fact we read “we wish to express serious concerns about some of them which, if approved, would clearly affect Coni’s autonomy”.
The Italian Olympic Committee’s autonomy is of vital importance for the IOC since sports organizations that adhere to the Olympic movement must necessarily be neutral.
Neutrality and autonomy include the determination of the rules of the sport and the definition of the structure and governance of the same.
Cooperation with governments is envisaged, but National Olympic Committees must be independent of any political, economic, or religious influence.
Violation of these rules leads to failure in compliance with the Olympic Charter.
In the extreme, it could lead to the suspension of the National Olympic Committee from the Olympic events.
The suspension, in any case, has not yet been decided but only feared. The IOC invited all parties to a formal meeting on the issue.”
THE SPORTS REFORM
The Italian government aims to reorganize the Italian Olympic Committee through the new Sports law. The reorganization of Italy’s National Olympic Committee was assigned to the government through the legal instrument of the delegating law.
What are the principles of the Olympic Charter that have been violated?
- The government can’t reorganize the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), its activities, nor its internal organization
- The Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) activities and responsibilities should not be dependent on the government
- The entities that make up the Italian Olympic Committee should abide by the CONI’s statutes, the Olympic Charter, and the statutes proposed by the International Federation (IF) with which they are affiliated
- The government can’t have specific control over the Italian Olympic Committee’s financial activity