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HOC warns cuts will lead to disintegration of Greek sport

By Graham Wood

ATHENS (Reuters) - Budget cuts could lead to the "disintegration of Greek sport" the country's beleaguered Olympic Committee (HOC) said on Thursday.

The HOC issued a plea to the state to reconsider drastic spending cuts for sport and warned that athletics federations across Greece would shutdown in January if their cries fell on deaf ears.

The budget for sport has been slashed by 50 percent year on year since 2010, while an 80 percent cut has been put in effect for 2013, according to HOC officials.

"We are heading categorically towards the situation whereby Greek athletics will be non-existent from January 1, 2013 and this is something I say in all seriousness," HOC general secretary Manolis Katsiadakis told a news conference.

"The government tell us to secure sponsorships but I would love to know where they see such sponsorships coming from - even the larger federations cannot find sponsors, it is impossible to achieve these days."

Among what HOC vice president Sakis Vassiliadis described as "very modest" proposals put forward by the HOC was a request for 60 million euros ($76.36 million) of funding from state-run betting company OPAP over a four-year period, nine million euros from staff reductions and a 20-million-euro grant for federations from the state.

"Greek sport will simply disappear unless the plans are revised," said Vassiliadis.

"We feel we have the obligation to our athletes, coaches, staff and more importantly young aspiring athletes to try and change the situation and that is what we are doing with our proposals.

'BRUTAL ATTACK'

"We have willingly participated in helping to carry the weight which burdens all of Greek society and showed our understanding by adjusting," he added.

"Today, however, we face a brutal attack, and in 2013 the reduction reaches 80 percent. We had prepared federations for such a large reduction, but not within the space of two months. This budget will be the final blow which destroys sport."

Vassiliadis told Reuters he feared Greek representation in sports could be drastically reduced should the situation continue.

"There are real concerns that we could see an embarrassingly low number of athletes competing in the next Olympics in 2016," he said.

"At Beijing in 2008 we had 156 athletes, at London 2012 there were 103. I fear we could see as few as 25 in Rio if the situation is not changed."

Greek sport has been hit with a series of funding cuts as a result of the economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures.

The cash-strapped athletics federation (SEGAS) has suspended its operations twice in the space of 12 months in protest at continuous cutbacks in state funding since 2008.

The government also withdrew 190 million euros of funding for accommodation projects for the Mediterranean Games, which were supposed to be held in Volos and Larisa in 2013 but were awarded to the coastal city of Mersin in Turkey as a result.

(Editing By Alison Wildey)

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