By DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's track and field authority suspended all athletic operations Wednesday due to severe spending cuts — a major embarrassment for the nation that hosted the Summer Olympics only eight years ago.
The move — the latest twist in Greece's nearly three-year financial freefall — is the first such action by any of the country's major sports bodies. It immediately halts all domestic track and field competitions, including track meets May 12-13 in several Greek cities.
The decision will not, however, affect the May 10 flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia, in southern Greece, for the 2012 London Olympics, or have any immediate effect on the selection of Greek athletes for those games.
"The Board of Athletics Federation ... unanimously decided to suspend all domestic sporting activity until decisions to make unfair and selective cuts in funding are reviewed," a federation statement said.
The agency is expected to meet again in two weeks and could toughen its stance even further to include international meets like the European Championships if the Greek government fails to respond.
The federation "calls on the sporting leadership ... to intervene and avert the economic dead-end and the disintegration of track and field," it said.
Federation President Vassilis Sevastis told The Associated Press on Tuesday that deep cuts in state funding have left coaches and suppliers unpaid for up to 10 months. He said the federation was unable to cover its basic needs.
Officials said the federation's budget was cut by nearly a third in 2011 and by a similar amount in 2012. It has around €6.5 million ($8.7 million) to spend this year.
"Around €2 million ($2.7 million) was cut last year — that's money we owe to athletes, coaches, sporting associations and suppliers. After more cuts were brought in this year, we're at a dead end financially," Sevastis told the AP. "We want the government to reverse its decisions."
With both a Greek election and the London Olympics looming, that could give the federation some leverage for its demands.
Faced with the threat of bankruptcy since finding severe financial shortfalls in late 2009, Greece abruptly slashed funding for sports, health care and public services and raised a wide range of taxes. Since May 2010, the country has been surviving on billions in emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund and other countries that use the shared euro currency.
Greece's debt problems have fueled the entire continent's sovereign debt crisis and shaken confidence in the euro currency used by 17 nations.
The country has been operating under a technocratic-led coalition government since the Socialist government fell last fall and is facing new elections in late April or early May. The government so far has refused to roll back any of its main austerity measures despite near-daily strikes and protests that have often degenerated into riots.
Several high-profile athletes have complained recently that training facilities created for the 2004 Athens Olympics have been poorly maintained due to funding cuts.
"The most significant problem is the financial one," Olympic hammer throw athlete Alexandra Papageorgiou told the AP while training at coastal facilities Tuesday.
"After that it's the facilities. You see it here. Everything is falling apart," she said. "I've lived through the best moments of Greek athletics and now I'm living through the worst."
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