Greece's Olympic Games heritage in a freefall
Peeling paint flakes from Athens' Olympic park. Its entrances locked, this once sparkling edifice to sporting greatness lies rotting and largely unused -- maintenance costs too high for near-bankrupt Greece to operate.india Updated: Feb 07, 2012 00:17 IST
Peeling paint flakes from Athens' Olympic park. Its entrances locked, this once sparkling edifice to sporting greatness lies rotting and largely unused -- maintenance costs too high for near-bankrupt Greece to operate.
The rate of decay and dilapidation in just eight years provides a visual clue to the Greek scenario, one as effective as any economist's report or politician's statement.
"Like heaven and hell," Greek athletics federation chief Vassilis Sevastis told Reuters, comparing the heady days of 2004 when the Greeks staged the Olympics, with today.
Back then the country was crackling with optimism, pride and activity, as it rushed to deliver the multi-billion dollar Games organizers hoped would boost the country's growth and its modern image abroad. The Greeks also spared no expense in preparing the foundations for a spectacular medal haul: 16 medals for a nation of just 10 million people.
These days, however, Greek athletes must be satisfied with a trickle of money as they prepare for this year's London Olympics, the debt crisis having dried up almost every revenue stream for sports, public or private.
"It reflects our reality. The country that gave birth to the notion of measure went completely over the top," Sevastis said.
The 2004 Games that were to help shape a better future for Greece, turned into a noose as the billions of euros they cost only weighed on the country's subsequent debt crisis.
Having squandered the first three years of preparations, organisers were told in 2000 to speed up work or risk losing the Olympics. As a result, Greece embarked on a four-year building frenzy, with three shifts a day, that lasted up until a few days before the Olympics.
The country dug deep into taxpayers' pockets, dishing out an estimated $12 billion, more than double the initial projections.
"Obviously opportunities were lost," Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) President Spyros Kapralos said.
"The success of the 2004 Olympics was lost when the lights went out at the end of the closing ceremony as our country had no plan to capitalise on their success."
A string of failed attempts to lease some of the facilities has only further highlighted Greece's inability to draw any benefits from hosting the world's greatest sports extravaganza.
Even the city's entire southern coastline to the port Piraeus, which had been sprinkled with Olympic venues, remains fenced off, prime real estate in a state of limbo for eight years.