ATHENS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Many elite athletes in Greece can no longer afford to compete due to cuts in state funding, says rower Nikos Gountoulas, a world championship silver medallist.
Gountoulas said he and his twin brother Apostolos, four times European champions and ninth at last year’s London Olympics, had decided to no longer compete for Greece because of funding problems in their crisis-hit country.
“It’s a case of enough is enough, really,” Gountoulas told Reuters. “It was a very difficult decision for both of us, one we have not taken lightly given that we love this sport and have been competing for 13 years non-stop.
“We’ve reached the point at which we simply can’t continue without economic support (from the state). It’s not a move to make a protest or to create problems for the federation, it’s simply to give the message that elite athletes simply cannot afford to compete under the current circumstances.”
The 27-year-old twins, who competed in the pairs, have suffered from a government decision to make drastic cuts in sports funding under their austerity measures, with more than half of the country’s Olympic sports federations in danger of closing this year.
Greece’s world championship-winning water polo team have already seen their funding cut and the players, most of whom are unemployed, pay for their own training expenses.
Swimming is also suffering with Greece pulling out of the European short-course championships at the end of last year for the first time in 16 years due to financial problems, while the Zappeion Swimming Pool in Athens, a major training centre for Greece’s elite swimmers and water polo players, closed for the winter months because there was no money for heating oil.
Greece, which hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, was supposed to organise the 2013 Mediterranean Games but the event was moved to Turkey due to financial concerns.
Like other federations, the rowing body is waiting for the government to confirm its budget for this year.
“All federations are still awaiting confirmation on what budget they will have from the state for 2013, including ourselves,” rowing federation president Giannis Karras told Reuters.
“We have continued to operate on the basis of last year’s budget minus 20 percent but there are strong indications that the reduction will be in the region of 60 percent.
“We know that efforts are being made by the sports minister to find a solution and we are hopeful that a compromise can be reached but the problem is that there is no time frame yet as to when this will be finalised.”
What makes the decision of the Gountoulas twins harder for the rowing federation is that it comes at a time when the sport’s popularity is on the rise.
Last year there were a record 514 new athlete registrations from 31 rowing clubs as the international success of competitors such as the brothers and women’s lightweight double sculls duo Alexandra Tsiavou and Christina Giagizidou - who won Olympic bronze - prompted increased interest.
“It is really bad news for the national set-up but I understand the guys and their reasons. I can’t criticise them,” said Karras.
“The state used to provide funding and jobs in the past but now athletes are not receiving anything and potential state-organised jobs are frozen.
“They are not able to cover their basic costs of living and training as sponsorships are minimal so it doesn’t surprise me if I’m honest.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)