The Italian quest for sports governance

In the early 2000s, a new legislative provision (the law 178, passed on 10 August 2002) included sport in the Italian government welfare agenda. Four years earlier, a scandal concerning anti-doping practices had invested the leadership of the Olympic Committee (CONI) and compromised the relationship with the volunteers networks passionately engaged in a free-from-doping-in-sport campaign. This scandal de-legitimised the Ptolemaic order centred on the hegemony of the Olympic Committee. At the same time a dramatic problem of financing the expensive bureaucratic apparatus of the Olympic system was made public (Cherubini and Franchini 2004). The revenues originated from the Totocalcio (football pools) decreased as new betting games became more attractive to the Italian betting market, such as the Superenalotto launched in December 1997. As the leader of the Third Sector sports movement, UISP began to openly challenge CONl’s hegemony over the entire sports system. The controversy concerned above all the legitimacy of interference by competitive Federations in social policies.6 It is important to stress that in this period, the European professional sports landscape was also facing tensions created by the uncertainty and conflicts of competence between commercial sports stakeholders and institutions. The Bosman ruling (1995), by which the European Court of Justice imposed a supranational jurisdiction in defence of professional footballers, fuelled the hope of a regulation of sport more coherent with the dominant models emerging in Europe.

In the 13th legislature, with the D’Alema and Amato centre-left governments and the delegation to cultural heritage and sport attributed to Minister Giovanna Melandri, timid attempts at reforming Italian sport took shape. However, the legislative decree no. 242, launched in 1999, was limited just to rationalising the Olympic system and to make its government structures more democratic without focusing on its functions and purposes. Only with the 15th legislature, with Romano Prodi’s centre-left government (2006-2008), was government funding established to promote and support ‘sport for all' bypassing CONI control. This important innovation process predictably clashed with the CONI leadership closer to the centre-right political opposition.' However, a part of the sports promotion agencies, fearful of losing organisational protection and the economic benefits given discretely by CONI, did not support the reform project with the necessary conviction. There prevailed an ambiguous compromise between the defenders of the status quo and the advocates of the autonomy of

‘socially’ led sport. In the end. the only concrete result consisted in assigning to the Ministry of Welfare instead of CON 1 the competences in the matter of the tax regime and financing of sports programmes with exclusive social aims. However, amateur sports clubs were officially associated with the social promotion network established two years earlier. Consequently, they were forced to enrol in the regional registers of CONI on pain of losing government contributions for recognised activities of social utility. Thus a double legal regime was created, which implicitly recognised the dual vocation of non-profit sport, the competitive amateur one and the socially oriented one. This institutional differentiation remained, however, an unfinished ‘business’.

The law 242 was not even accompanied by adequate funding to promote a programme of information and qualification of the technical offer geared to the specific needs of citizenship sport as well as for supporting PE teaching programmes in schools. The economic and organisational costs of solidarity welfare sports campaigns remained to a large extent borne by the clubs and voluntary organisations. Only a few Italian Regions (mainly Emilia Romagna and Tuscany), thanks to the financial resources allowed by the semi-federal state regime, and the major municipalities - all governed by centre-left political alliances - concretely supported the experimentation of innovative and politically courageous social sports programmes. Among these social sports programmes were those aimed at inclusion and integration of migrants. At the end of the following decade, on the contrary, these sports programmes became the target of anti-migratory policies - conducted with particular aggression by the Lega politicians Matteo Salvini who will be from June 2018 until August 2019 the Minister of the Interior in the populist government led by Giuseppe Conte.

The reforms of the Italian sports model - started in the early years of the 2000s - resulted in such a way almost entirely in an infra-systemic differentiation of functions, useful for the survival of the old system.

The measures adopted by the populist government between the end of 2018 and the first months of 2019 are exemplary in this regard. The main and most controversial innovation involved the company CONI Servizi. Its skills and financial resources have been devolved to a new body called Sport e Salute (Sport and Health). It is a private company but owned by the government. In this way the Ministry of the Economy has incorporated all the ‘instrumental’ activities of the agency responsible for the financial enhancement of the patrimony and the brand.

The most suitable principles of management and control were affirmed and the cumbersome Italian federal sports bureaucracy was reduced, without however severing the ‘umbilical cord’ between political interests and the government of Italian sport.

The Italian Olympic system found as always legitimisation in the Olympic successes of the Italian athletes, ensured above all by the champions recruited by the Army and Police sports clubs (in 2008 at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, 11 of the 27 Italian Olympic medals were obtained by athletes affiliated with military or paramilitary sports clubs). These, in the first decade of the 2000s, were the protagonists of an unprecedented gender-related issue, which can legitimately be associated with social policies as the unintended effect of an institutional reform. The law 332 of 2000 abolished compulsory male military service and a historic ruling by the Constitutional Court (16 July 2001) consequently imposed the abolition of any gender discrimination in the recruitment of the Armed Forces. Thus it was possible to recruit women athletes in military and paramilitary bodies, finally offering them professional status and social security and pension when they ended their athlete career.

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