TURIN GAMES Italian officials suffer setback one year out

TV strike raises concern as 2006 organizers try to impress visiting IOC.
TURIN, Italy (AP) -- The Olympic torch has arrived and banners are flying. A day before celebrations marking a year until the Turin Games, though, Italy's reputation took a hit 200 miles away at the Alpine World Championships with the postponement of a race because of a local TV strike.
The walkout that forced the men's giant slalom to be abandoned in Bormio on Wednesday was organized by a small union of RAI state TV workers over contract issues, raising fears similar action could disrupt next year's Olympics.
"I'm a little bit ashamed by this," Valentino Castellani, Turin's chief Olympic organizer, told The Associated Press. "It's not good for the image of our country."
This is not the sort of display local organizers wanted to present to the IOC, which is holding a two-day executive board meeting exactly one year before the opening of the Feb. 10-26, 2006, Olympics in this Piedmont city at the foot of the Alps near the French border.
International Olympic Committee leaders will get a firsthand look at preparations for the games, as well as assurances that Turin's $196 million budget shortfall will be covered by the government.
No Athens repeat
Castellani stressed there is no danger of a TV strike at the Olympics because the organizing committee (TOROC) operates as host broadcaster and provides the TV feed. In addition, TOROC plans to negotiate a no-strike deal with trade unions for the games.
A few months ago, Turin was being compared to Athens and its delays in preparing for the 2004 Summer Olympics. But most venues are ready, and the IOC is upbeat.
"I don't think there is any possible comparison between Athens and Turin," said Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director for the Olympic Games. "They are on track."
The Olympic torch was presented in Turin on Wednesday for the first time. The torch relay will begin in Rome on Dec. 8 and travel more than 7,000 miles across the country before reaching Turin for the opening ceremony.
Just outside the IOC hotel, a ramp has been set up for a snowboard exhibition this weekend. There are World Cup biathlon races this week in San Sicario and snowboard events at Bardonecchia, both Olympic venues.
Last month, the renovated arena in Turin hosted the European figure skating championships. World Cup luge races in Cesana Pario, however, were canceled last weekend after several bad crashes on the new track.
Countdown begins
On Thursday, dignitaries and former Olympic champions will gather for the unveiling of the official countdown clock, which ticks away the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the opening ceremony.
IOC president Jacques Rogge will send official invitations to the world's national Olympic committees; about 2,500 athletes from 85 nations are expected to participate.
Castellani will give a progress report to the IOC board, including the apparent resolution of TOROC's budget problems. After a high-level meeting in Rome on Tuesday, the government said it would step in to cover the gap, caused mainly by a shortage of state-owned sponsors.
Details remain to be worked out. As a private foundation, TOROC is prevented by state law from receiving government subsidies.