Spanish economic woes imperil funding for races, teams and 2014 world road championships

Facing skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures, the government threatens to halve its financial support for sport agencies

Photo: Watson

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Spain’s worsening economic crisis is putting pressure on local officials to look beyond federal money to come up with the 5 million euros needed to underwrite the 2014 world road championships in northwest Spain.

Facing unemployment hitting 25 percent and across-the-board spending cuts to avoid bailout by the European central bank, the federal government is threatening to halve its financial support for national sport agencies.

Juan Carlos Castaño, president of the Spanish cycling federation, stirred the waters this week when he pointed out that Ponferrada organizers must look to private business to help fund the 2014 worlds.

“We are committed to the worlds, but with the (federal government) threatening to cut funding, there could be last-minute funding shortages. It could difficult, if not impossible to count on the public money,” Castaño told the Spanish wire services. “The only way to assure solid funding is to look for private businesses to step up and help pay the costs.”

Officials from the small city of Ponferrada, nestled in a remote corner of northwest Spain, were quick to try to counter a growing sentiment that the event is in danger of being canceled.

“I can assure you that the funding will be in place,” said Ponferrada mayor Carlos Lopez Riesco. “We will find the money from private funding. We will do everything we have promised to make the event a success.”

Ponferrada was the surprise winner to host the 2014 world road cycling championships. The mountainous region will provide a dramatic backdrop for road and time trial races, with courses favoring climbers. Spanish riders Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde have already said the route is ideal for their style of racing.

Spain’s worsening economic crisis is already having a devastating effect on cycling.

Scores of races over the past half-decade have been canceled due to a lack of sponsorship dollars. Spain once boasted the best spring racing schedule outside of Belgium, with a series of one-week races stretching from February to April that kept teams busy ahead of the grand tours.

Setmana Catalana, Bicicleta Basca, tours in Valencia and Aragon, and one-day races such as Luis Puig and Mont Puig have all been canceled over the past few years. With dwindling local and regional government funding, other races are shrinking in order to survive. Once a five-day event, the Vuelta a Murcia is now a weekend race, while the Rioja tour has been reduced from five days to a one-day criterium.

Even more established events are on the ropes. The Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco, two of Spain’s WorldTour events, were on the edge of being canceled this year before last-minute funding from regional governments saved the events.

Spain once boasted four major elite teams and dozens of smaller feeder squads. Their numbers have shrunk dramatically, with only Movistar and Euskaltel-Euskadi remaining in the WorldTour.

Ponferrada officials are set to travel to Valkenberg next week for the world championships to meet with UCI officials to assure them that funding will be in place to hold the event as scheduled in 2014.

With Spain pushing to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, Riesco said, it’s paramount that Ponferrada host the worlds as planned.

“Spain would convert into a banana republic if we did not meet our international commitments,” Riesco said.


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