— Published 5 January 2021

Italy under threat of exclusion from the Games

Paradox. Italy is now in fourth place among future host countries for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, after Japan, China and France. But according to the president of his National Olympic Committee (CONI), there is a real risk of seeing his flag and his anthem excluded from the Tokyo Games.

Giovanni Malago, the president of CONI, is not the man to use superlatives indiscriminately. At 61, the former futsal player, who joined the IOC in 2019, knows how to stay calm under all circumstances. However, he took advantage of an interview on Rai 3, just before the start of the New Year, to sound the alarm bells.

“The risk of going to Tokyo without an anthem and without a flag is very high”, he said. According to Giovanni Malago, Italy could join Russia in the ranks of countries excluded from the Games. The reasons would be different, but the result comparable.

In question, a law adopted by the Italian Parliament limiting the prerogatives and influence of CONI. With the creation of a new public entity, “Sport and Health”, political power now controls the destinies of the Italian Olympic movement. In particular, it supervises its financing.

Such government interference in CONI’s affairs is found to be contrary to the Olympic Charter. It threatens the exclusion of Italy from the Tokyo Games.

Nothing new to this. The Italian law was adopted at the end of 2018. The IOC has expressed concern about it on several occasions, notably in 2019, Thomas Bach writing to CONI to explain that he risked a suspension if the law was not changed.

But with less than 200 days of the Tokyo Games, the threat is becoming clearer. Above all, the schedule is accelerating. According to Giovanni Malago, the Italian question is on the agenda of the next meeting of the IOC Executive Board, scheduled for January 27.

The president of CONI told Rai 3: “Everyone is worried, the athletes, the coaches. The risk is real. No one wants sanctions. It would be scary”.

Realising the urgency of the situation, Giovanni Malago went on the offensive. He recently met the head of the Italian government, Giuseppe Conte, to discuss the subject and ask him to find a solution. A response is still pending.

“I hope those who have the honour and the responsibility to find a solution will at least keep their word”, says Giovanni Malago. “Today, no one can ignore the risk we are running”.

The state of emergency in Japan, and the threats to the organisation of the Tokyo Games, could push the Italian question to second place in the debates of the next meeting of the IOC Executive Board.

At this stage, it seems difficult to imagine the Olympic body ruling out a second country, after Russia. Shaken by the health crisis, the Olympic movement certainly does not need a new controversy.

However, Thomas Bach has already raised his voice against the Italian authorities. Without results. Surely the German leader will not accept to be treated with indifference eternally.