Strike Brings Postponement at Ski Worlds

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Feb. 8, 2005

BORMIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf) - A race at the Alpine World Championships was postponed Wednesday when Italian TV workers went on strike, a dispute that comes with the Winter Olympics a year away and the IOC to meet this week in Turin.

``We could have certainly done without this,'' Italian Olympic Committee president Gianni Petrucci said.

Thousands were on their way to the course for the men's giant slalom when word of the strike came an hour before the start. The race at the worlds - skiing's biggest event after the Olympics - was rescheduled for Thursday, originally an off day for competition. The championships are to end Sunday, and three other races are scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

``This is not normal,'' Austrian star Benjamin Raich said. `` It's total chaos. Normally the world championships should be a happy event.'' Turin Games organizers generally have received good marks from the International Olympic Committee after a series of successful test events, but budget shortfalls and this strike could heighten concerns.

``I'm disappointed, angry and frustrated,'' International Ski Federation general secretary Sarah Lewis said. ``Everything was ready to go _ 156 athletes and fan clubs had traveled especially to be there.'' Bode Miller and Hermann Maier were among those scheduled to race Wednesday. Maier lamented the long trip made by his many fans.

``They left yesterday at midnight and arrived at 7 this morning,'' he said. ``It's fine weather and there is no race for them. Now they must find rooms and it costs a lot of money. It's a working day, too.'' Strikes are common in Italy, although usually confined to domestic issues and events. This strike was over contract issues and organized by a small Milan union of RAI state TV workers. Since RAI was producing the international feed, the strike precluded all 28 TV networks in Bormio from televising the race. Some fans in the finish area attacked an RAI truck when they learned about the strike, forcing police to step in.

``As an IOC member I told the Turin organizing committee two years ago that they should try to have a law against strikes during the Olympics, and so far nothing I know has happened,'' said Gian Franco Kasper, president of the ski federation.

The Turin organizing committee responded Wednesday by saying it intends to create an arrangement with workers' organizations that stipulates a ``trade union truce'' during the games.

Kasper called the protest a ``wildcat strike.'' He said that under Italian law strikes by public services must be announced 24 hours beforehand and this was therefore an ``illegal'' strike.

U.S. head coach Phil McNichol said ``the biggest loser today is ski racing.'' ``Racing is at an all-time low, we're trying to get a stronger foothold in TV and yet we can't hold a world championships race because of television,'' McNichol said. ``It's extremely disappointing.''

Ken Read, head of the Canadian team and a former downhill racer, added: ``It's despicable. This is no way to gain sympathy for their cause.'' While not blamed for the strike, the local organizing committee in Bormio was chastened.

``Consternation, anger, embarrassment, shame. These are (our) reactions,'' the committee said in a statement. ``Certain things only happen in Italy, and right now it's a day to forget in Bormio.''

Kasper said he was informed of the strike threat Tuesday night but was unable to assemble a makeshift crew of Swiss, German and Austrian TV workers. He said a ski federation TV crew would be in place if the strike continued Thursday, and the race might proceed even without television. Kasper recalled a similar strike when the worlds were previously in Bormio in 1985.

``Twenty years ago here we had the same problem,'' he said. ``It sounds like a joke, but it's true.''