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BUENOS AIRES: Diogenes de Urquiza, director of the ENARD (National High Performance Sports Entity), poses during an interview with AFP in Buenos Aires, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. – AFP
BUENOS AIRES: Diogenes de Urquiza, director of the ENARD (National High Performance Sports Entity), poses during an interview with AFP in Buenos Aires, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. – AFP

Argentine Olympics athletes fret over dwindling funds

BUENOS AIRES: Argentine judoka Paula Pareto, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, made waves when she announced she was giving up her state coaching stipend to share it among struggling athletes. Her comments last month came after Argentina’s austerity-minded government cut the number of judokas it supports from 18 to four.

With just weeks to go until the Paris Olympics, Argentina’s high-level athletes are increasingly worried about their futures due to cost-cutting measures under libertarian President Javier Milei. “When you are an athlete, results are demanded of you, but each time they give you a little less,” Pareto told the TyC Sports channel.

This year, the body in charge of supporting high-performance athletes, ENARD, had its budget frozen at 2023 levels, despite annual inflation of almost 300 percent. “In a country like Argentina today, where people don’t eat, we are aware that there are other priorities,” ENARD director Diogenes de Urquiza told AFP.

He said the country was focusing financial support on athletes who had qualified or were likely to qualify for Paris. The Undersecretary of Sports, Julio Garro wrote on X that Pareto’s remarks “overshadowed and minimized the effort” the government has made.

‘Never been easy’

Light years away from the well-paid glory of Argentina’s star footballers, some 1,200 Argentine high-level athletes and coaches receive stipends of an average $350 per month. This is slightly more than the minimum wage of about $255.

“But we live on that,” said Argentine swimmer Macarena Ceballos, who dreams of a “real state policy” for athletes. The 28-year-old, voted best South American swimmer in 2023, has struggled to train for the Olympics in the chilly Argentine winter after a pump to heat the pool at her training center broke.

“It’s the same every winter,” she said. “Things have never been easy. Yet there have always been medals, Olympic finalists.” Argentina secured one silver medal and two bronze in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

Since Milei came to power in December last year, his “chainsaw” approach to budget cuts has left the film and culture industry reeling, and soup kitchens with empty pantries. In his drive to end decades of economic decline, Milei also cut his cabinet in half and did away with tens of thousands of government jobs.

‘After Paris’

The libertarian Milei believes the private sector and civil society should step in where the government cannot. “There are very few sports that are in a position to be governed by the mere condition of the market and profit,” said Jon Uriarte, a volleyball player who won a bronze medal in Seoul in 1988.

“The network of clubs that supports Argentine sports is unique on the planet.” According to an official survey from 2021, there are about 12,000 clubs and sports entities in Argentina, which play a crucial social role in underprivileged areas. “How many Argentines can pay their child’s club fee?” Walter Perez, a cyclist who won gold in Beijing 2008 and president of the Argentine Olympic Athletes Commission, acknowledges government efforts to keep up support for those who have qualified for Paris. — AFP

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