(Updates with details, quotes)
By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN, Jan.26 (Reuters) – Italy on Tuesday approved a decree guaranteeing the autonomy of the country’s Olympic committee, a day before the IOC discusses imposing sanctions on the host of the Winter Olympics of 2026 for perceived government interference in sports matters.
The IOC had threatened to ban the Italian flag and anthem at this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of an Italian sports bill that transfers power over sports funding to a government body instead of CONI, the National Olympic Committee.
The cabinet approved on Tuesday morning a decree guaranteeing the autonomy of CONI through a series of “urgent measures concerning the organization and functioning of CONI”.
“In order to ensure the full functioning 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 staffing, including management”, the government said.
CONI chief Giovanni Malago has contacted the IOC, of which he is a member, to inform them of the news.
The IOC Executive Board is due to meet on Wednesday, and sanctions against Italy were on the agenda aside from a series of issues related to the Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC is allergic to any kind of government involvement in sports affairs, even at the national level, arguing that sport should be independent from any government influence.
Italy is set to host the 2026 Winter Olympics and any sanctions before Tokyo would have been a big embarrassment.
It is not uncommon for the IOC to threaten or impose sanctions on countries for 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 playing its anthem at the Tokyo Games, and its athletes will face off as neutrals following a doping scandal that has hovered in the sports world for five years.