ATHENS Naughty children can expect nothing from Santa Claus but a piece of coal, the tradition goes, but young swimmers in Greece are actually asking for the fuel this Christmas.
Members of the youth academy at Olympiakos Piraeus, struggling to find funds to heat their pool through the winter, have written a letter to Santa Claus asking for coal this Christmas.
"We collected wishes from the families of the swimming division of the club for the festive season and decided to put them into a letter for Santa Claus," swimming team manager Spiros Bitsakis told the club's website.
"We brought all those wishes together believing that they have special significance for the club and our sport in general.
One of those wishes was to give ‘courage and strength to our parents to bring us to training and lots of coal to all of the teams so that all of the closed swimming pools can reopen', he said.
Many under-funded municipalities across Greece are having to close facilities because of a lack of funds to pay for heating the pools in times of economic crisis.
The Zappeion Swimming Pool in Athens, a major training center for Greece's elite swimmers and water polo players, is closing for the winter months because there are no funds to pay for heating oil.
Last month, the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) said several sports federations would have to close down in January if budget plans were not revised and sent the government a list of financial proposals which have not yet had a response.
Greece did not take part in last month's European short-course swimming championships in France for the first time in 16 years because of financial problems.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)