Giro d'Italia director Michele Acquarone chats with Katusha directeur sportif Valerio Piva.
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Taranto: "His suspension is about governance not about punishment"
The 2014 Giro d'Italia presentation went ahead as planned in Milan on Monday, with organiser RCS Sport determined to focus on the details and quality of next year's race rather than discuss the recent news that an internal audit has discovered the possible misappropriation of funds from its accounts.
However Michele Acquarone, the likeable and much admired figurehead and driving force behind the Giro d'Italia in recent years was not at the presentation. He was suspended by RCS Sport last week while a detailed internal investigation is completed.
CEO Giacomo Catano, Matteo Pastore, the head of communications and external relations at RCS Sport and Laura Bertinotti, head of accounts and administration, were also absent from the presentation. Bertinotti has resigned from the company.
The Italian media has reported that up to 13 million Euros may have disappeared from the accounts of minor sporting events managed by RCS Sport. It seems the cycling sector is not directly involved but the Giro d'Italia is RCS Sport's backbone and biggest asset of the company.
RCS Sport had an estimated turnover of 48 million Euros a year, with profits of three million. The misappropriation could leave a significant hole in the company's balance sheet.
Andrea Monti, the editor of Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian sports newspaper that owns the Giro d'Italia and is part of the RCS Media Group, presented the 2014 Giro d'Italia route presentation. He was joined on stage by Pier Bergonzi, one of the senior journalists of the paper and the former chief cycling reporter. He is the leading candidate to become the new figurehead of RCS Sport's cycling events if Acquarone is unable to return to his role.
Riccardo Taranto was appointed as the new CEO of RCS Sport on October
4, following Acquarone’s suspension. He has managed the RCS Group Advertising Department since 2008 and will hold the double role until the investigation is complete.
"Things carry on as usual. It's not a particularly difficult moment," he told Cyclingnews with typical Milanese business aplomb.
"We're simply carrying out a study of some things that weren't managed correctly and we're working so that the problem is totally resolved.
It's nothing to worry about and nothing that has ever put in doubt all the events RCS Sport organises."
"It happens in lots of other companies but unfortunately it doesn't hit the headlines like it has in this case. We're doing the audit to understand the size of the problem and then we'll know more."
Few people at RCS Sport believe that Acquarone is directly involved in the misappropriation of funds but as Chief Operating Officer he was responsible for the management and finances of the company.
Acquarone was the driving force of RCS Sport and especially the Giro d'Italia after taking over from Angelo Zomegnan in 2011. He lead a hard working and dedicated team of staff that help modernize the Giro d'Italia, making him one of the most innovative race organisers in professional cycling.
It is currently difficult to see how Acquarone can return to the position of CEO but Taranto refused to rule it out.
"We took a preventative decision. It's not a disciplinary suspension but a preventative one. His suspension is about governance not about punishment," he said.
"We can’t exclude that Michele will return to his position. It depends on the outcome of the investigation."