London, Sep 25 : More than 6 million pounds of European Union funds intended for developing the Calabria region in southern Italy is to be spent on sponsoring the country's football team.
The regional government in Calabria, classed as one Europe's poorest regions, has decided to reallocate the economic development funds from building ports to paying for promotional branding during Italy's current World Cup campaign, The Telegraph reported.
Beniamino Donnici, a Liberal Italian Euro-MP and former Tourism Minister in Calabrian government, has asked the European Commission to investigate why funding meant to help the poor has been diverted to one of the World's most successful and wealthy football federations.
"This is madness on a scale worthy of the Guinness Book of Records. Why on is this public money being spent on the world champion football team and not on Calabria?" he asked.
Donnici, who released documents from the Calabrian administration to back up his claims, has also revealed that included in the cash transfer is a testimonial payment of 398,000 pounds to a charity established by the Italian footballer Gennaro "Rino" Gattuso.
A member of Italy's victorious 2006 World Cup squad, Gattuso is a Calabresi and plays for AC Milan, one of the world's wealthiest footballs clubs which is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister.
The cash is to be donated to Forza Ragazzi Onlus, a foundation that aims to provide housing and sports facilities for young Calabresi boys.
Bill Newton-Dunn, a British Euro-MP who headed a European Parliament Budgetary Control Committee investigation into EU funding in Calabria, said the affair showed things are going wrong
Calabria, one of southern Italy's poorest regions, is also home to the N'drangheta, one of Italy's most powerful and violent mafia organisations which has been accused of siphoning off EU regional funding.
Agazio Loiero, president of the Calabrian regional government, has defended the sponsorhip deal as a good one to promote Calabria while raising its "positive image".
He has claimed that only 1.4 million pounds will go directly to the Italian national team out of the 6.4 million pounds EU fund, with other cash being spent on advertising related to the World Cup sponsorship.