Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government is accused of meddling in the affairs of the NOC. (Getty Images)
The IOC calls for the Albanian government to stay out of the affairs of the national Olympic committee or risk possible suspension from the Olympic Movement.
The warning comes amid allegations from Albania's sports leaders that the ruling Democrats are attempting to control the NOC to enhance its chances in parliamentary elections on June 28. But the IOC is refusing to recognize newly installed leaders of the NOC following reports of government interference.
European Olympic Committees President Pat Hickey and Raffaele Pagnozzi, EOC secretary general, have spent the last two days meeting government ministers and Olympic officials in the capital Tirana in a bid to defuse the row between the IOC-backed NOC and Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government.
Hickey tells Around the Rings that a letter to the Albanian sports minister, signed by IOC President Jacques Rogge and himself, was sent before his visit. It stated that the IOC would not recognize the NOC unless new democratic elections were held with observers from the IOC and EOC present.
“We had a meeting with the minister of sport, listened to all parties concerned and outlined the position. The Olympic Charter very explicitly says there should be no government interference,” said Hickey, IOC member from Ireland.
The IOC officials also warned of the possible sanctions if the government does not agree to hold free and fair elections to appoint new NOC leaders. These include the NOC's suspension from the Olympic Movement. The NOC was first recognized by the IOC in 1959.
“We made it very clear democracy should prevail, that a general assembly should take place and the Olympic Charter must be respected,” he said.
Hickey said the International Wrestling Federation and International Gymnastics Federation have already suspended national federations in Albania because the government has interfered in running the sports.
On March 13, world wrestling body FILA announced its suspension in the wake of the Albanian sports ministry's decision to recognize a rival national wrestling organization without support of the country's Olympics officials. It means Albanian wrestlers, judges and officials are currently banned from international competitions and the country is not allowed to stage international events.
The Albanian NOC also reports on its Web site the “heavy damage to the electoral system” which has been inflicted in the elective processes of several Albanian sports federations.
Its concerns extend to recent assemblies of the Albanian Federation of Athletics and the Albanian Federation of Gymnastics, “where we have observed flagrant interventions of individuals from the Sports Directorate at the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sport (MTCYS).”
“Albanian NOC expresses its worry for this phenomenon of grave and irreparable consequences to the country’s sports institutions, consequences that greatly impair federations’ autonomy and their right to choose,” the NOC said in a press release.
Hickey will now make a report to Rogge on the Albanian NOC's issues of concern; IOC sanctions could result.
Saying the IOC is aware of many cases of government intervention in NOCs around the world, Hickey adds: “The autonomy of NOCs is a new headache for the IOC.”
Rogge has made his views on sport and autonomy crystal clear in Olympic seminars on the issue over the past 18 months. He has indicated that the IOC will not abide government intervention in the affairs of NOCs and stated that sanctions will be handed down for countries that violate the Olympic Charter.
Government interference in the Iraq NOC led to the IOC suspending it last June, although a deal was brokered allowing Iraqi athletes to compete in the Beijing Games.
The IOC is closely monitoring elections for new leaders of the national Olympic committee of Iraq, which are scheduled for April 4. They have been postponed since last November, the deadline originally set for transparent and fair elections. With reporting from Mark Bisson.
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