Buenos Aires Times

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Anger greets DNU downgrading Argentina's Sports Ministry to an agency

Government sources told local media on Wednesday that the agency would not have the power to control or sell assets, despite concerns from the sports community.

Wednesday 30 January, 2019
President Mauricio Macri and his daughter Antonia visit the Youth Olympic Village during the 2018 Games in Buenos Aires.
President Mauricio Macri and his daughter Antonia visit the Youth Olympic Village during the 2018 Games in Buenos Aires. Foto:Twitter

Argentina's government on Wednesday downgraded the country's Sports Secretariat, which enjoyed ministerial status, to the category of an agency. 

The decision sparked anger among sports regulatory experts and athletes, and comes as the Argentine national athletic team readies for its participation in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru.

"The National Sports Agency will be focussed on the construction, development and maintenance of sporting installations," as well as the training of athletes and technicians, read the DNU emergency decree signed by President Mauricio Macri.

Government sources told local media on Wednesday that the agency would not have the power to control or sell assets, despite concerns from the sports community.

Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a somewhat cynically organised media blitz, some of the country's biggest sports stars and commentators released tweets supporting the decision – in identical language.

"The creation of the agency is positive for spot and will increase the quality for all sportspeople. It will now be quicker to receive subsidies and scholarships and, for the first time, the provinces will be able to participate in these decisions," a tweet read that was issued from multiple accounts, both official and personal.

It was posted by the likes of hockey star María Noel Barrionuevo, rugby player Horacio Agulla as well as the official account of Las Leonas, Argentina's world-renowned national women's hockey team.

MAJOR CHANGES

The agency will remain under the leadership of until-now Sports secretary Diógenes de Urquiza, a man considered the godfather of Argentine padel.

For the first time in the national sport regulatory body's history, the decree authorises the new agency to sign agreements with private companies.

"It's really about big business," claimed former Sports secretary Claudio Morresi.

"The government started reducing the budget for the social area [of the entity] and the support for Olympic athletes. And now they've sold grandmother's jewels, which means the land that belongs to the Sports secretariat," Morresi, a former River Plate player from 1980 to 1990, told El Destape radio, the audio outlet of the opposition-friendly website.

Other voices were also sounding alarm bells. The influential Clarín newspaper noted that "among those who are against the initiative there is a belief that, being allowed to sign agreements with private entities, the agency will drive Argentine sports toward privatisation."

It added that opponents of the decision "warn that since the new agency has the ability to administer the assets which are currently used by the Secretariat, [which now] could be sold."

The agency will allegedly control assets which include 700 hectares of public land currently occupied by the country's High Performance Sports Centre, the National Baseball Stadium and other areas near the National Rowing Piste, among others.

Former Olympic volleyball player Marcos Milinkovic criticised the decision claiming it was an attempt to "privatise Argentine sport and approve the sale of public land."

The decision comes just four months after Buenos Aires successfully hosted the Youth Olympic Games.

- TIMES/AFP

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