US Media on Greece
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
A NEWS REVIEW FROM THE EMBASSY OF GREECE IN WASHINGTON DC
PRESS & INFORMATION OFFICE
August 2003; Vol. 9 No. 8
(also available in PDF file)
With One Year to Go:
“Magical” Athens Olympics Are in Sight
The count-down is on. One year from now, on August 13, 2004, the top athletes of the world will parade, for the first time since the modern Olympic Games were inaugurated in 1896, in the land where they were born in ancient times and revived in modern times.
Earlier, there were doubts about the ability of Greece, the smallest country ever to host the modern Olympics, other than Finland in 1952, to meet the enormous challenge of building stadiums, creating a new transport system, and providing accommodation for tens of thousands of athletes, officials, journalists and spectators. There were indeed some early delays and glitches. But, with strong organizational leadership and firm government commitment (spending an estimated $5.2 billion for Olympic venues and other infrastructure projects), there is a growing consensus that, with a year to go, the 2004 Games will be a great success, even—in the expression of Athens Organizing Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission Chairman Denis Oswald — “magical.”
The increasing confidence in the success of next year's Olympics was evident in the conclusions of the IOC after the most recent inspection headed by Mr. Oswald and his team who attended the seven test events in rowing, archery, canoe and kayak, cycling, equestrian, sailing, and beach volleyball. The tests involved 1,300 ATHOC staff, 5,000 security and other personnel, 2,000 volunteers, nearly 1,300 athletes and 500 judges.
Despite problems in the rowing trials–frequently encountered in international competition–caused by high winds which upset boats, the rest of the tests went on without a flaw and Mr. Oswald said: “We are quite happy with what we have seen. Greeks, when it comes to important things, can work miracles. If the pace established in the last months continues, I believe that the schedules will be respected and then all the necessary conditions for magical Olympics will be there.”
Asked if he would vote again for Greece to organize the Games, he replied: “Certainly I would vote again in favor of Athens organizing the Games. The closer we get to the Games the more confident we are that they will be successful.”
Reporting at an August 19 press conference on the progress of the major Olympic installations, Mr. Oswald spoke of their “high quality” in design and execution. All the athletes who had seen the various venues had been impressed, Mr. Oswald said.
Mr. Oswald spoke highly of the organizational and functional success of the trials, and had special praise for the hard work and dedication of the volunteers who went short on sleep to be on duty at 5 a.m. and who “showed Greece in the best possible light.” Oswald also commended the people of Athens who showed “complete understanding” in putting up with the inconveniences required by the cycling trials. “The cooperation of all concerned,” he said, "makes me confident that next year things will go equally well, or even better . . . Looking back on previous Olympic Games, such as those in Sydney, I would say that some adjustments were also needed there after the trials. The Sydney Games were crowned with complete success. After what we have seen, there is every reason to believe that the Athens Olympics will be even more successful." He also predicted that the tramway and suburban rail lines will operate flawlessly during the Games. However, “schedules are tight and we must not lose a single day.”
Asked about the test events, he said that everything worked well, except for the wind. “In many sports you face difficulties of this type. For example, no test was held in Salt Lake City for downhill skiing because, two weeks before them, there was not enough snow. One week before the Games there was too much snow, so again the event did not take place. In rowing, nearly every year, in every world championship, there is at least one day where you have to change the schedule and adjust the competition format. For rowing next year we have scheduled eight days of competition, instead of four days for the test event this year, and we know how to handle adverse conditions.”
In addition to observing the trials, Mr. Oswald said he had met with Athens 2004 officials, with members of the government, and with Prime Minister Costas Simitis. He and his team had also inspected progress on the famous roof being built for the main Olympic Sports complex by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the beach installations and the whole length of the new tram line. “We made the same inspections two months ago. And personally I was highly impressed by the progress which has been made since then. We also inspected construction of the Karaiskaki Soccer Stadium and again we were much impressed by the progress which has been made. Things are going well.” Referring also to the issue of security, Oswald said: “It remains a first priority, but there should be no concern as everyone is working hard.”
After the successful conclusion of the test events, Prime Minister Simitis added his voice to the generally confident tone of the Olympic officials. “The projects are on schedule,” he said, “and they will be ready on time. Greece will be ready and safe during the Olympic Games.” He emphasized the positive and tangible impact of the Olympic projects on the quality of life for the Athenians. As for the Olympic trials their purpose, he said, was to identify flaws and make corrections.
The Legacy of the Athens Olympics
The Ministry of Culture, which supervises Olympic preparations, published in August an assessment of the long-term consequences for Athens of hosting the 2004 Olympics.
On the opportunity for "the aesthetic reshaping of Athens," the study notes that the Greek government has allocated 180 million euros ($200 million) to numerous projects, including a plan for the removal of commercial signs from buildings in the capital, with 1500 such signs now gone. The plan also foresees the unification of the city's archaeological sites in an open-air park complete with facilities for cultural activities. It also includes major improvements to provide family attractions in the coastal zone of the capital.
More than 90 percent of the sports facilities needed for the Olympics has now been completed, with special attention given to the Olympic Rowing Center in the Marathon area, which eliminated an old and disused polluting airport and has been constructed with respect for the neighboring wetlands.
Improvements in the public transport system include a new tramway running from the center of Athens along the coastline to the new Olympic installation at the old Hellenikon airport. The Athens Metro, the most modern in the world, will have three new extensions of ten kilometers, adding a 200,000 passenger capacity. It will also be linked to the suburban rail line giving access to and from the new Athens airport. New highways will also link Athens with four major cities hosting the Olympic soccer competition throughout Greece (Thessaloniki, Volos, Patras, and Heraklion).
Special attention is also given to Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, with 100 million euros allocated for the unification of the archaeological site, the renovation of the existing museum, and the creation of a new museum for the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Village, 23 kilometers north of the city, will have 2,500 houses, accommodating 16,000 athletes and officials. Constructed of environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient materials, the houses will be available for workers' residences when the Games are over.
The review also describes the accompanying Cultural Olympiad as a "major pillar" of the 2004 Games, with 100 high-level events in Greece and abroad at a cost of 120 million euros. Some 4,000 athletes with disabilities are also expected to take part in the Paralympic Games, two weeks after the close of the Games. An Olympics educational program, with 2,000 new teachers on board, is under way at 5,000 schools in Greece.
On the economic impact of the Athens Olympics, the review foresees a 1.3 percent increase of GDP in 2004 and some 30,000 new jobs a year. They are also expected to lead to a 5 percent increase in tourist arrivals.
For continuing coverage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, go to www.athens2004.com
Close Scrutiny of Olympic Preparations by the World Press
With installations for media coverage of the 2004 Games, described as the best ever, now near completion, the international press is already paying close attention to Olympic preparations. Some reports still reflect the anxiety aroused by earlier problems, but most recognize the enormous strides made in recent months and look forward to a landmark event in the history of the modern Olympics.
A selection from recent US press reports follows:
USA Today, August 8, published a cover story in the Life section titled “Athens Olympic Endeavor Takes Shape” and subtitled “Land of the Original Games is Building Momentum.” The report by Jane Clark and Vicki Michaelis noted that “many Athenians embrace the possibilities heralded by the event while others grumble about the inconveniences.” All, however, agree that “the Games will leave Athens a profoundly changed place.”
The report goes on to detail many of the new amenities: “a clean and efficient metro system linked to the new International Athens Airport; a tram line which will access the coast south of the city . . . which in its post-Olympics incarnation will be the ‘Athens Riviera’ . . . and 45 miles of new highway to ease Athens’ legendary traffic jams.”
Other improvements noted in the report include: “a new pedestrian walkway linking 12 major archaeological sites, a new archaeological museum at the foot of the Acropolis with symbolic empty display areas for the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles . . . and an expansion of the Athens Concert Hall (making it) the world’s largest music complex next to New York’s Lincoln Center.”
Turning to the intensive efforts to make Athens more attractive, the report cites the current drive of Mayor Dora Bacoyannis to repair some of the damage caused by the rapid growth of Athens in the 1960s and 1970s. “In recent years,” the report says, “a number of once-derelict neighborhoods have taken on a new vitality. In the cool of early evening on Thisio, a district northwest of the Acropolis, hundreds of café tables are occupied along a broad stone pedestrian street . . . Just as the nearby Agora – the ancient marketplace where Socrates philosophized and Saint Paul preached – was a hub of community life, so is revamped Thisio with its street musicians, strollers and dawdlers.”
Nearby in Gazi, “trendy restaurants, clubs and art spaces geared to the young, the hip and the barely dressed are slowly replacing the grit of gasworks and other industrial sites. At Technopolis, a complex of art galleries, theater spaces and the Maria Callas Museum, old brick smokestacks rise like modern sculpture against the night sky as spectators file in for an evening performance under the stars.”
Noting the “cultural changes” sparked by the coming Olympics, the report observes that, instead of the previous emphasis on French and Italian cuisine “now, some of the hottest eateries serve Greek fare with a sophisticated twist, and regional winemakers have elevated their craft beyond the pine-resin-laced ‘retsinas’ once synonymous with Greek wines.”
Among other cultural changes linked to the approach of the Olympics, the report notes that the smoking ban in effect at all Olympic sites are now being enforced in restaurants and public buildings—“no small feat in a land where cigarette smoking is practically a national pastime.”
In another upgrade of the Athenian environment, the report cites the plan of local municipalities “to thin the legions of stray dogs prowling the streets by rounding them up, sterilizing them and releasing them after the crowds go home.”
“Though its bounty of antiquities will always be Athens’ greatest draw, tourism officials are hoping the Olympics not only will buoy tourism for years to come but will highlight the city’s modern side.”
The August issue of Travel and Leisure magazine published a long article by Eleni Gage. Titled “Olympian Effort,” the subtitle proposed that a successful 2004 Olympic Games will generate “an improved standing in the eyes of the world (which) might be Greece’s real gold medal.”
“The 2004 Olympics,” Gage writes, “come at a key juncture for Greece, which has shifted from being the EU’s poorest country to becoming a leader in the Balkans, a position that has grown increasingly important ever since the EU welcomed ten new member-states in April . . . Greece has the fastest economic growth rate in Europe, partly because of investment for the Olympics.”
The article quotes Athens Mayor Dora Bacoyannis saying that the Olympics are a “coming-out party for the city of Athens itself . . . I would really like to show ancient and modern Athens to the world in a new light. Everybody going home will have fallen in love with Athens.”
Among the achievements highlighted in the article: “Most of the subway has been finished—and what a subway, with marble floors and display cases exhibiting artifacts found during construction. The new airport was completed and named second best in Europe by the International Air Transport Association . . . The Athens Organizing Committee is proud of having secured the largest number ever, 11 cruise ships — including the Queen Mary 2 — to dock in the renovated, environmentally-friendly, port of Piraeus, housing 12,000 spectators, journalists, and members of the Olympic committees . . . Hundreds of berths for yachts are still available . . . More than 14,000 rental flats have already met ATHOC’s stringent requirements for security and amenities.”
After the Games, “Athens will have been transformed, Athenians will gain new access to the sea through the renovated Faliro coastal zone . . . which (IOC Coordination Commission Chairman) Oswald calls ‘one of the most impressive urban rehabilitations in Europe’ . . . Tourists who used to give Athens a wide berth and head for the islands could soon be tempted by upgraded hotels and museums, multilingual info kiosks and pedestrian walkways linking archaeological sites . . . Mayor Bacoyannis’ hope is that when TV cameras follow cyclists whizzing past the Acropolis, viewers will see Athens as ‘a city that I must visit at least once in my life’—and that Greece’s reward for its Olympian efforts will be nothing short of a new identity.”
NBC’s “Today” program of August 13 featured an interview about the 2004 Olympics with Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee. When asked about the wind-affected rowing trials, Mr. Rogge said: “We are very pleased by the operational capacity of the organizers.” And, on the question of security for the Games, he added: “There is a huge effort by the Greek government . . . Everything humanly possible has been done.”
Interviewer Katie Couric: “In the past you’ve said preparations in Athens remind you of the theme from the 1964 movie ‘Zorba the Greek,’ which starts slowly and then accelerates. Are you confident that you are in the acceleration period now?”
Mr. Rogge: “Oh, definitely. You refer to the Syrtaki music, and it starts slowly and ends at a tremendous pace. We have a tremendous pace today.”
The Los Angeles Times of August 13 published a long account of the increased security measures for the Athens Olympics by Alan Abrahamson. “Operating on the premise that the world was forever changed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Summer Games that begin one year from tonight in Athens will test, as never before in the history of the Olympics, the ability to make the Games safe for athletes, coaches, officials and fans. Greek authorities will deploy a record 58,000 security personnel . . . at a cost of $1.135 billion.”
“It is one of the cruel ironies of the Olympic Games, a festival dedicated not only to sporting excellence, but to the advancement of brotherhood and peace, that they inspire an enormous police, military and security apparatus, and Greek authorities acknowledge their delicate task as the Games return to the nation that gave the world the Olympic ideal: how to keep the peace without giving Athens the feel of a war zone.”
“Greek authorities,” the report continues, “proclaim regularly that the 2004 Games represent a chance to show the world that they can transform their ancient capital into a 21st century city the equal of any in western Europe, that they can build world-class sporting venues to which spectators can take air-conditioned subway trains, that they can meet the logistical and organizational demands of the 17 days of the Olympics.”
Two long reports in the Houston Chronicle of July 26 by David Barron include an interview with ATHOC President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki who said: “We have always been confident in the ability of the Greek people to make these Games a success. I am confident, but I will remain concerned until the Closing Ceremony is completed and the last athletes and spectators have gone home.” On the legacy of the Games she noted that “the Athenians will enjoy better transportation, cleaner air, thousands of acres of parks and open space, new housing and a sense of pride that comes from hard work and great achievements under a strict time line.”
“It is completely appropriate,” she concluded, “that a symbol of Greece’s brilliant history is helping us move rapidly and fully into the 21st century. We are proud of our past, but we are a nation of new technologies and works as well as marble and bronze. For us, the Olympics are not just about the Games, but about showing the world our modern face and contemporary achievements.”
Parthenon Marbles in Athens for the Olympics?
The approach of the Athens Olympics has given new impetus to Greece’s efforts to retrieve the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum in a mutually agreeable arrangement, which skirts the issue of legal ownership.
Greece’s latest proposal was advanced by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos early this month. “In the framework of joint cultural traditions and close cultural ties between the two countries,” he said, “we have proposed the creation of a single joint exhibition of the Parthenon Marbles. In this manner, the Marbles may be in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games through cooperation between the British Museum and the new Acropolis museum” (a reference to the new museum now under construction in close vicinity to the Parthenon itself).
Mr. Venizelos was responding to enquiries following a report in London’s Sunday Times on August 3 that Greece has been discussing with the British Museum a temporary return of the sculptures under a rental arrangement. “The Greek side,” Mr. Venizelos said, “is ready to sign all the necessary contracts, both between the two museums and between the two governments. Besides, the two countries are members of the European Union and of UNESCO. If the British side were to agree to the proposal, this would be both a cultural and a political initiative of universal dimensions.”
The return of the Parthenon Marbles was urged in an editorial of the Boston Globe of August 15. “No one is saying every treasure acquired under questionable circumstances should be returned to the country of origin . . . Still, some items are so iconic of a culture that they lose meaning when displayed out of context . . . At a minimum, Britain should entertain a temporary compromise . . . The British have been good stewards, but 21st century Greece is at least as capable as was 19th century England.”