Olympics-Italy staves off threat of Olympic sanctions with decree

FILE PHOTO: Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malago, Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Cortina Gianpietro Ghedina and IOC President Thomas Bach pose after Milano and Cortina won the bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games during the 134th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at the SwissTech Convention Centre, in Lausanne, Switzerland June 24, 2019. Philippe Lopez/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Italy on Tuesday approved a decree guaranteeing the autonomy of the country's Olympic committee, a day before the IOC was due to discuss imposing sanctions on the host of the 2026 winter Olympics over perceived government interference in sporting matters.

The IOC had threatened to ban the Italian flag and anthem at this year's Tokyo Olympics over a draft Italian sports law that hands power over sports funding to a government-run body instead of to CONI, the national Olympic committee.

The cabinet approved a decree on Tuesday morning securing CONI's autonomy with a string of what it called "urgent measures regarding the organisation and functioning of CONI."

"In order to ensure the full operation of the Italian National Olympic Committee and its autonomy and independence as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the text gives CONI its own organic endowment of personnel, including management," the government said.

CONI chief Giovanni Malago has contacted the IOC, of which he is a member, to inform it of the news.

The IOC Executive Board is due to meet on Wednesday, and sanctions on Italy had been on the agenda aside from a raft of Tokyo Olympics-related matters.

The IOC is allergic to any kind of government involvement in sports affairs, even at the national level, saying that sports should be independent of any government influence.

Italy is set to host the 2026 winter Olympics and any sanction ahead of Tokyo would have been a major embarrassment.

It is not unusual for the IOC to threaten or impose sanctions on countries over government interference, as has been the case in recent years with India, Kuwait and Ghana among others.

Russia is currently banned from flying its flag or having its anthem played at the Tokyo Games, and its athletes will compete as neutrals in the wake of a doping scandal that has hung over the world of sport for the last five years.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in Rome, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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