Rome

Olympic gold medallist Idem strengthens cabinet

Naturalized Italian, woman minister challenges glass ceiling

Olympic gold medallist Idem strengthens cabinet

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, April 30 - Newly appointed minister for equal opportunities and sport, Josefa Idem, will be the first Olympian to be part of an Italian cabinet. She was sworn into Premier Enrico Letta's fledgling administration on Saturday as part of a relatively young team of ministers that includes seven women comprising one-third of the cabinet. It is not the first time that the German-born, Italian adopted retired athlete has proved an exception. The mother of two has, during the course of her three-decade career, won 38 medals in European, world and Olympic competitions. In total, Idem has a tally of five Olympic medals, including the gold she won in Sydney in 2000. In 2003 she sent a strong message to women athletes when she gave birth to her second child and then returned to compete in at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, winning the silver medal in the K 1,500 m. She was also the oldest contender in her discipline, at age 47, taking part at what was her eighth Olympic competition, the 2012 London Games. Alas, she only won fifth in the final, but the unflappable Idem told Sky Television that she was "sorry because this was my last race, but I'm also happy because I came so close to the podium". Before switching to race for her adopted homeland Italy, she competed at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for West Germany. In part, Idem has the end of the Cold War to thank for her switch of allegiance to Italy. That and her husband-coach Guglielmo Guerrini, whom she married in 1990. Her initial intention after moving to Italy to be with Guerrini in 1988 was to continue competing for Germany. But the fall of the Berlin Wall and the availability of athletes from East Germany meant the national team's coaches were unwilling to accommodate the needs of someone living outside the country. "I never felt like I had to pick allegiances, choose sides or call myself 'Italian or German'. It is like saying I love my mother more than my father," Idem said at a conference in her home region of Romagna before leaving the 2004 Olympic Games. Even before her competitive athletic career came to an end, Idem dovetailed her sports experience with politically savvy. From 2001 to 2007 she served as Ravenna city councillor delegate for sports, as member of the centre-left Olive Tree alliance. She then became a member of the Democratic Party (PD), and was tapped as a parliamentary candidate for the Senate after winning the party's 2012 primary elections. In a 2012 New York Times interview, she said that if she did turn her attention to politics, "it would be to benefit women". As in the world of sports where women athletes often face greater challenges and receive fewer rewards than their male counterparts, Italian political posts have historically been sparsely occupied by women. Idem's appointment to Letta's administration makes not only one, but two naturalized Italian women (the other being the first black MP, Congolese-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge) to have been given roles important for policy making in a time that the country is in need of reform - political, economic and social.

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