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Olympic champion Stefanidi: Gov’t demands athletes pay back medal bonuses

Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi is fighting the Greek Government’s demand that she and team mate Paraskevi Papachristou repay medal bonuses earned at the 2016 World Indoor Athletics Championships in Portland in Oregon.

The 30-year-old United States-based athlete is concerned that the Greek Ministry of Sport is now excluding payment for indoor medals as a cost-saving measure and that this will severely impact the majority of the country’s track and field competitors.

Stefanidi and Papachristou – who won respective pole vault and triple jump bronze medals in Oregon – have gained a legal stay against the order to repay their awards, which they received in December 2018, “within five business days”.

Meanwhile, Stefanidi told insidethegames, the Ministry of Sport is planning to drop any reward for indoor medals when it announces its bonuses for 2017, when she won the world outdoor and European indoor titles.

“My main concern is indeed that they are trying to find a way to no longer pay bonuses for indoor performances,” Stefanidi said, adding that she was worried that a decision like this will have a major impact on the future of the sport in the country as well as on the willingness and ability of athletes to compete and earn medals in future indoor events.

The Ministry of Sports has offered bonuses for more than 20 years for all medals, indoors or out, earned by Greek athletes, although the amounts have dipped recently.

For example, Olympic gold in 2004 was worth around €200,000, whereas the current rate is less than half of that amount and only medallists are rewarded as opposed to top-eight finishers previously.

“The craziest part is they are asking for money back for 2016 but no other year and this law went into effect in 1999,” Stefanidi said adding “So we certainly feel like we are being targeted.”

“They are trying to find ways to save money by hurting athletes and basically going against the law with ridiculous excuses,” she added.

The Ministry is supposedly trying to ‘solve’ the issue, however, the process has frozen and the Ministry is not even responding to emails sent and signed by every Greek indoor medallist since 2016.

Stefanidi commented on the exclusive insidethegames report saying “We’ve come so far that they want us to give money back.”

The General Secretary of the Sports Ministry, Giorgos Mavrotas, and ultimately the Deputy Minister himself, Lefteris Avgenakis, responded saying practically that there is “a will” to solve the issue.

In addition, Avgenakis’s tweet was rude. “You have been informed since October 29 by me and the General Secretariat […], the will is clear, we proceed with legislative amendment […].

Stefanidi responded very politely that she has not received any information.

UPDATE: On Monday morning, several Greek media reported about it.

Stefanidi posted on Twitter:

“You know the worst part? I had to go to international media for this to come out. What does that tell you?»

PS Greeks on Twitter urged Katerina Stefanidi to refuse to take any pictures with state officials next time she comes to Greece with a medal.

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