Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:50 UK

Italian football to get EU funds

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

Italy's Fabio Grosso (right) celebrates World Cup goal, 2006
Italy won the 2006 World Cup on penalties against France

Millions of pounds of European Union funds meant to help a poor region of Italy are set to be spent sponsoring the Italian national football team.

The regional government in Calabria, a southern province, wants the money to go on promotional branding during Italy's World Cup campaign.

It would cost them 1.8m euros (1.4m) over three years.

Regional officials argue it can help raise the profile of their area, both within Italy and overseas.

The idea is that the promotion will attract more tourists to Calabria.

Italy will play Bulgaria, the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro during qualifying, as they begin their defence of the World Cup - which they won in Germany in 2006 by beating France in the final.

According to one website promoting Italian tourism, Calabria is currently "little-respected by other Italians and little-known to tourists".

It is also home to the N'Drangheta, one of Italy's most powerful and violent mafia organisations.

EU scrutiny

Beniamino Donnici, a Liberal Italian member of the European Parliament and a former tourism minister in the Calabrian government, has asked the European Commission to investigate why funding meant to help one of the country's poorest regions is actually being diverted to one of the world's richest football federations.

At a European Commission briefing to reporters in Brussels, a spokesman acknowledged that "decentralisation does give individual regions quite a large scope for deciding what to invest in - but we don't turn up with a suitcase of money and say 'enjoy'."

The answer was greeted by muffled laughter amongst the press pack and more than the odd raised eyebrow.

The spokesman went on: "The whole process does have to be properly audited, and if the auditors say it is inadmissible - show them the red card - Calabria will have to pay the money back."

The commission is denying accusations it has responded too slowly to the revelations, and says it has asked the Calabria region to "clarify" its intentions by next Monday.

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