Italy targets new height in 2012 Olympic Games

10:00, April 13, 2011      

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By Silvia Marchetti

Italy has set an ambitious goal for the upcoming London Olympic Games - a total of 31 medals, four more than their haul at the Beijing games in 2008.

This would guarantee Italy a top-ten finish in the medal table of the Olympic Games, senior officials of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) told Xinhua.

CONI has launched several scientific research projects in cooperation with several universities and institutions, such as Ferrari, with the aim to produce better equipment and gear for their athletes and thus sharpening their competitive edge.

They also plan to set up training camps for their athletes in those countries with specific excellent disciplines.

"Our beach volleyball boys will be staying for four months in the United States while the women's volleyball team will train in Rio de Janeiro for two months," said Alberto Rabiti, Secretary General of the Italian Volleyball Federation.

"Investing in our champions' preparation is crucial because we believe we have good chances in the London Games," he said.

A small delegation from CONI have flown to London with a mission to make sure everything will be in position there for their athletes' pre-games preparations.

All this is made possible thanks to Italian taxpayers' money.

In 2009 and 2010 the government ring-fenced 445 million euros for CONI, of which 259.3 million went to fund the country's 45 sports federations.

High-level Olympic training took up 86 million euros, general sport activity promotion 91.8 million, special projects 13.2 million, and 2.7 million was earmarked for the Olympic Club uniting top Olympic athletes.

According CONI, in 2010 the four most highly-funded federations were football (82.5 million euros), swimming (9.9 million), athletics (8.7 million) and volleyball (7.9 million euros).

The remaining of CONI's budget was used to pay personnel salary, services, logistics and other daily operations.

CONI could even dig deep into their coffers as ever year, in addition to the governmen funding, they can usually raise several millions euros from sponsorship and sport lottery.

On top of the government funding, the single sports federations aslo have their own means to get more money. The Volley Federation, for instance, enjoys a 40 million euros revenue from membership fee.

Rabiti said his federation would spend some of their budget on the grassroots, such as the schools where several projects have been launched to promote a healthy sports culture.

The goal is to cull young talents at an early age through adequate sports education, explained Rabiti. His federation has set up special "volleyball colleges" for 50 high-school students where they live, study, train daily and compete in tournaments.

The bulk of the federation's budget, more than 70 percent, however, would be spent on preparing the players for the Olympic Games in an effort to win the gold medals.

How much is the value of the Olympic gold medals? And should a nation spend so much for them?

Italians are pretty much divided on the issue. The majority of those talking to Xinhua held it was "logical that the government to fund top athletes because they had no other source of income considering they would train all day long."

Others, however, observed that more money should be invested in schools and other general sports activities.

The Olympic gold could boost a nation's image and prestige, and its value is beyond doubt, according to MP Claudio Barbaro, member of the Italian Parliament's sports committee.

"A lot of money goes into forging top athletes and as a result little is left for the mass of our students, this is a problem," he said.

"Sports should not just be for champions and Olympic stars, but also for ordinary citizens' health, public fitness and wellbeing," he said.

Barbaro hope the entire sports funding system could be reformed.

"There should be a centralized Sport Ministry that directly allocates resources and implements a sports policy. CONI should also fund sport promotion in schools and local authorities and should have a greater role in promoting sports culture and building structures," he said.

Valerio Vermiglio, captain of the Italian men's volleyball team who won silver at the 2004 Olympic Games, said it pays for the taxpayers to fund top athletes because these contribute to a nation's global standing.

"Sports are part of a population's cultural growth and athletes embody positive sports values," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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