Insiders say Costa Rica’s men’s and women’s beach volleyball teams have a good chance at bringing home a medal from the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia, which begin tomorrow and run through July 30. They’ve put in hours of practice and tons of sweat to perfect their digs, spikes and passes — but perhaps an even more strenuous feat has been securing funding to attend the games.
All Costa Rican athletes with hopes of competing in Cartagena share this predicament — at the 11th hour, it remained unclear whether the National Olympic Committee (CON) would provide any funding for the games.
Because of this, sports federations sending athletes to the games were forced to scramble for funds from private organizations and other government offices, according to committee spokesman Marcelo Rivas.
Committee director Jorge Nery said problems with the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER) have made it impossible for the country to ensure its Olympic athletes will be able to attend the games, held every four years. The government institute has failed to approve funds to cover the athletes’ travel expenses, he said.
ICODER director Osvaldo Pandolfo blamed the Olympic committee for not naming a representative to the National Sports Council, a group of representatives from various state and private organizations that must approve all national funding for sports.
Caught in the middle are the country’s Olympic athletes, who belong to federations that depend on funding from the Olympic Committee to attend the games.
“We’ve always been greatly worried that the money would never come through,” said Costa Rican Volleyball Federation president William Corrales. “There’s a lot of administrative disorder here in Costa Rica.”
Nery agreed administrative bureaucracy is to blame for the delay securing funds for the games – specifically, he alleged ICODER has created unnecessary requirements to slow down the process of approving funds.
Under the Costa Rican law that created ICODER, the institute is in charge of “overseeing the use of public funds to be invested in sports and recreation and taking pertinent actions to guarantee the punctual and efficient rendering of accounts for these funds.”
This includes making sure funds arrive to the Olympic Committee for the Central American and Caribbean Games, which, together with the Pan-American Games and Central American Games, make up the pre-Olympic circuit, Nery said.
The Olympic Committee has been working for a year to secure the ¢90 million (about $176,000) needed to send 108 athletes and coaches to the games to participate in track and field, bowling, equestrian competition, gymnastics, regular and synchronized swimming, racquetball, tae kwon do, discus, beach volleyball, triathalon, soccer and judo.
“The law is being wrongly interpreted,” Nery told The Tico Times during a July 7 interview. “The system is not working and time is running out. Every time we think we have everything together, ICODER asks us for something else.”
However, according to Pandolfo, it is the Olympic Committee’s fault its athletes have no funding. The law states that the National Sports Council must approve funds for the Olympic Committee, he explained.
This council is made up of representatives from ICODER, the Olympic Committee, a university, a sports federation and the Health and Education ministries, and new members are appointed during each Presidential administration.
For the seven-member council to approve funds for the games, Nery, as president of the Olympic Committee, had to appoint a representative, and he failed to do this until the end of June, when he appointed himself, Pandolfo said.
“I don’t understand why, but he (Nery) wouldn’t name anyone to the commission,” he said. “We could have started getting the funds in May, but we’ve now had to wait months and we’re doing everything humanly possible to get them.”
According to the Committee, ¢14 million ($27,450) from ICODER’s budget surplus was approved by the Comptroller General Wednesday.At press time, the institute said it would transfer these funds to the committee’s account today.
Additionally, Nery said the Committee still hoped to receive ¢144 million ($282,350) to cover training and travel costs, which former Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) legislator Olman Vargas helped obtain from the Finance Ministry in 2005.
However, the Comptroller and ICODER have yet to approve the transfer of these funds, so it is unlikely they can be used for next week’s event.
Meanwhile, sports teams have had to come up with their own funding from private sponsors and other government offices.
The volleyball teams (beach and indoor) would have been sanctioned by the International Volleyball Federation and not allowed to compete for three or four years if they had not attended the games, Corrales said.
Tae kwon do Association president Ronald Bolaños, who also had to seek outside funding for his team to attend the games, said this is nothing new.
Costa Rican sports federations have been playing this waiting game for years, said Bolaños, who began competing in tae kwon do in 1988 and has since become a coach.
“The money has always come, but usually one or two days before we leave,” Bolaños said. “I suffered as an athlete, and imagine what it’s like now as a director.”
Bolaños said he believes both the Olympic Committee and ICODER are responsible for the funding headaches.
“I don’t think we should blame one side, but rather call attention to both sides,” Bolaños said. “They’re both thinking about themselves and not about the athletes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nery said he believes funding delays are a result not only of bureaucracy, but also of a lack of appreciation in Costa Rica for sports other than soccer, especially in light of the National Soccer Team’s recent participation in the World Cup, Nery said.
“They (soccer players) show up in first-class style and we travel in borrowed cars and clothes,” Nery said. “Here, people think about soccer and nothing else.”
The soccer team had a $1.8 million budget to travel to Germany and play in the 2006 World Cup last month, according to Costa Rican Football Federation treasurer Rodrigo González.