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Italian pride at the Quirinal: Mattarella hands the Italian flag to Federica Pellegrini and Martina Caironi

160622 056 consegna tricolore Foto Mezzelani GMTThe magic of a ritual that makes proud, caressing the soul and warming the heart. The march towards the Olympics, the 31st edition of the Summer Games, intertwined with a "tricoloured" emotion of green-white-red, which extends across the country, because it translates into that sense of belonging that makes sport Italy's special trait d'union, the greatness that unites above any diversity, the pride that unites and transcends any barrier. Smiles, hugs, flashes: Rio 2016 is there, one step away, reflected in the inspiration of a day that lives on the wave of feelings, warmed not only by the first rays of summer but also from that fearless desire to honour the Italian flag, "behind which an entire nation stands". The solemnity of the Quirinal was the backdrop to the most significant ceremony, one that animates the eve of the Games: in front of more than 100 athletes, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, handed the flag to Federica Pellegrini and Martina Caironi, the standard-bearers of the Olympic and Paralympic dreams, before his personal and touching words of encouragement for Team Italy ahead of Rio 2016.
The Italian delegation (photo Mezzelani Carbone GMT) was led by the President of CONI, Giovanni Malagò, the Secretary General, Roberto Fabbricini, the Deputy Secretary and Head of Olympic Training, Carlo Mornati, and the President of the Italian Paralympic Committee, Luca Pancalli. The Government was represented by the Secretary to the Prime Minister, Luca Lotti. Many Federal Presidents, members of the National Committee and Council were present.

Malagò symbolised the satisfaction of the entire sporting world for this unique moment. "Thank you President Mattarella, on behalf of the world that it is my honour to represent. For us it is an important day, unlike any other. Today, the athletes feel just how close the country's highest institution is to them. Present are 50% of the Italian athletes already qualified and almost 50% are female. And that makes us proud, just like it is to be represented by a flag-bearer that has had such a wonderful career, and was Italy's youngest ever individual medallist, a record which still stands today. I would like to thank the Government and Secretary Lotti, who are here today. We won 28 medals in London. We are not going to make any promises about podium finishes, but I guarantee that the athletes will give their all to keep the name of Italy flying high".

Pancalli underlined the concept, expressing a particular request to the Head of State. "If I had to sum up in five words what I want to express to you, Mr. President, I would choose emotion, passion, pride, gratitude and hope. Each of them represents a part of the Paralympic family and are real talents, and the dream of every athlete is to perform on that stage. The pride in this extraordinary tradition, the handing of the flag, on this occasion to Federica and Martina is repeated once again and adds to the culture growth of the country. I am going to break the patterns of formalism, Mr. President let us win the first gold medal, with your presence at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics. But we will understand, given the large number of commitments, if you are not able to attend, because I know that you will be with us in your heart".
Federica Pellegrini was visibly moved and stated how "the Olympics touches our hearts, our greatest dreams and our minds. We are heading to Rio with the desire to fight right to the end, we will suffer and we will cheer each other on, with the prospect of improving as women and as men. Thank you Italy for giving me the honour of being your standard-bearer". "There is a great wish that I would like to make - said London Paralympic gold medallist, Martina Caironi - that the CIP (Paralympic Italian Committee) can continue to grow, to touch and make the hearts beat, as mine is beating now, of all athletes and spectators, because what Paralympic sport has perhaps even more of is the ability to stir certain emotions deep inside".

Secretary, Luca Lotti, opened the album of personal memories to recap the significance of the event and the support of the Government for the Italian athletes. "Being here today is a source of pride because two women are the stars. The Games are a part of our life. I was 10 years old when Italy's men's water polo team won gold in Barcelona 92. I watched the match, I remember Sandro Campagna shouting the word "character" to his team-mates, after the controversial penalty awarded to the hosts who kept their advantage until 42 seconds left in the second period of overtime. And Italy pulled out its character. Like us. Ready - as a nation - to stand up in difficult times, to do the best to overcome difficulties. I will never forget that soaking wet flag. It is the symbol of athletes who are committed to winning, to representing the country. Just like athletes with disabilities. You are not alone. The flag that you take today has to make you feel that we are right by your side. Be an example of pride and dignity. When you feel in difficulty, think that there are 60 million Italians by your side. There's a whole country that supports you, you will know how to give an example of character and loyalty. On behalf of myself and the Government, good luck".

President Mattarella drew a close to institutional proceedings. "The Olympic values of loyalty, coming together and integration should be the foundations of each and every nation, above all they should teach Italy itself that with" different features and all its precious parts" it should form a cohesive team that is unanimously committed as one. Sport plays a fundamental role in bringing together and integrating people to get behind the entire country - he states -. Our country's complexity and diversity is represented in the various disciplines of the athletes, each very different from the other. It would be desirable, as used to happen, that every conflict in the world stopped during the Olympic Games. The international community is not as this point, but the message conveyed by the Olympics is geared in this direction. I hope you win many medals, but it will be your behaviour and your performances that is the true sense of honour and keeps the name of Italy flying high at the Games. I am certain that you will be able to do this and the flag that you will hand back at the end of the Games will be honoured by your behaviour and your performances".
And the subject of the Games has embraced the subject of the Olympic bid after a nostalgic memory of the legacy of 1960. "I would like to remember two extraordinary people: born and bred in Germany, and English by adoption, Ludwig Guttmann, who first identified the importance and the value of sport for the disabled, and our countryman, Antonio Maglio, a great character and thanks to whom he first Paralympics were held in Rome. The 1960 Rome Summer Olympics left another important mark on the international community: the first Paralympics. In 1960, thanks to Antonio Maglio, Rome left an important mark on the international community and on the world of sport with the first edition of the Paralympics. I hope that Rome 2024, if conditions allow for this to happen, might be able to pursue objectives of social importance because the Games have an impact on the area they are held and they are influenced in some way too".

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