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Turin Olympics organizer quits 15 months before games

| Friday, Nov. 5, 2004

ROME -- The chief organizer of the 2006 Turin Olympics is quitting in a power struggle with the Italian government, just 15 months before the start of the Winter Games.

Valentino Castellani, head of the organizing committee known as TOROC, said Thursday he will submit his resignation at a Nov. 24 board meeting.

Castellani said he was undermined by the government's nomination of Mario Pescante, culture ministry undersecretary and former head of the Italian Olympic Committee, as overall supervisor for the Feb. 10-26, 2006 games.

Pescante's appointment was confirmed in a meeting in Rome on Wednesday.

"The powers given to Pescante ... represent a lack of confidence in the work done here up until now, and above all, in the capacity to continue it," Castellani said in a statement.

TOROC has come under sharp criticism for a $227 million budget shortfall. The games also have been hindered by a lack of public awareness and enthusiasm in Italy.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge met with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi last month to press the government to step up support for the games and encourage state companies to sign up as sponsors.

The right-leaning government responded by naming Pescante as supervisor, a position that Castellani felt came into direct conflict with his own mandate.

"That's it. It's not worth trying to work this way anymore," said Castellani, a former left-leaning mayor of Turin.

There was no indication of who may succeed Castellani.

Government officials insisted when Pescante was appointed that his role would not clash with that of Castellani. But Castellani considered it a personal attack.

"You can't occupy a position of responsibility like mine and not have the faith and support of all the people who have a responsibility for organizing the Olympics," he said.

Gianni Petrucci, president of the Italian Olympic Committee, or CONI, and one of the members of the commission that nominated Pescante, said he was sorry Castellani was resigning. But he said Pescante's nomination was backed by all sides, not just the government.

"It was equally shared by everyone who participated in yesterday's meeting," Petrucci said. "By CONI, the city of Turin, the province of Turin and the Piedmont region."

TOROC chose not to send any representatives to the Rome meeting.

In a series of articles last week, the Milan newspaper Il Giornale picked apart nearly every detail of TOROC's financing, alleging that excessive amounts have been set aside for food, wine and plane tickets.

The newspaper, which is owned by Berlusconi's brother, Paolo Berlusconi, said projected spending for each athlete during the games would average $80,500.

"In the last few months, I've had numerous personal attacks, also to the professionalism of TOROC, and I've always tried to look ahead, build a consensus, to respect everyone," Castellani said.

Pescante resigned as CONI's president in 1998 following a scandal over the IOC-accredited drug-testing laboratory in Rome. The lab was shut down after allegations that some tests were mishandled and covered up.

Enzo Ghigo, president of the Piedmont region where Turin is based, said there has been too much attention on the organizers and not enough on the games themselves.

"There's a lot of talk about the Olympics in the political sense, but not much sports-wise," he said. "I hope this tendency ends soon."

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