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Eastern Athletes Face Financial Difficulties

Prague, July 15 (RFE/RL) -- The games of the 26th Olympiad promise to be a glorious occasion for international sports--and for new nations eager to be recognized. But for these new nations, financing a team can be difficult.

The 100th modern Olympics will be staged from July 19 through August 4 in Atlanta, the largest city in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.

The splendid and glittering event is certain to bring prestige and financial success to the organizers and glory to athletes from the participating countries.

And it will give the countries formed since the collapse of communism an occasion to be recognized as respected entities, a result as important to some as the chance to demonstrate their athletes' prowess.

"Participation at the Games is a political issue, a question of prestige," said one Ukrainian politician.

But sending a team to the Games often presents financial difficulties. The Ukrainian National Team experiences "huge problems" in securing funds for training, equipment and logistics, said Valeri Borzov, Ukraine�s Sports Minister and the Olympic sprint gold medalist for the Soviet Union in 1972.

Borzov told a Western correspondent in Kyiv that lack of stable financing was threatening Ukrainian athletes' preparations.

Ukraine has been experiencing a prolonged economic downturn. Millions of workers go unpaid for weeks and months and the population's standard of living is plummeting.

Ukraine's delegation to the Games will likely be kept to a bare minimum, and the financial strain may affect the athletes.

But the team will go. Ukraine will compete in the Atlanta Summer Games for the first time as an independent state. Its athletes participated in the 1992 Barcelona Games, but as part of the unified team of the former Soviet republics. Some of them are likely to win medals for their own country this year.

Established athletes, those with internationally recognized achievements, have it easier. Sergei Bubka, Ukrainian world pole vault champion, lives and trains in the West. So do Belarussian gymnastics champions Svetlana Boginskaya and Vitali Sherbo, who live in the United States.

They and Eastern athletes who train in similar conditions in the United States, Western Europe and some Central European countries are likely to be better prepared than their teammates who stay at home.

Other athletes have been aided by international sports organizations. Some Eastern athletes received grants from the International Olympic Committee. Still others have been helped by separate Western national bodies.

The German National Olympic Committee, for example, has provided aid since 1992 to the Bosnians. Several Bosnian athletes have trained in Germany during recent months. The Germans are raising funds to pay for air transportation to Atlanta of about 20 Bosnian athletes.

Before the 1992 Barcelona Games, the Lithuanian basketball team was aided by perhaps the hippest sponsor--the U.S. rock group the Grateful Dead. The band donated a set of tie-dyed basketball T-shirts with a slam dunking skeleton. The shirts were a stunning success and are reported to be a hot seller in Atlanta.