Next week a torch shall be passed. It will be lit on the hallowed grounds of Olympia, site of the ancient Olympics 3,000 years ago, and then be run to the stadium in Athens where, in 1896, the modern Games were born. From there it begins an around-the-world marathon 78,000 kilometers across six continents before returning to Athens in August for opening ceremonies at the newly refurbished Olympic Stadium.
Another torch was passed in Athens last week, as well. Greece's ruling Socialist Party, in power for 20 of the past 23 years, was trounced in elections that brought the ascendance of yet another European conservative party. Ironically, the new prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, had to do relatively little to win. His New Democracy party almost coasted to victory, thanks to high joblessness, allegations of corruption and the apathy generated by a ruling party that had long overstayed its welcome.
The big question is what the change of government means not just for Greece and its foreign relations, but for the Olympics. Karamanlis's party is quite different from the right-wingers of yore, when Greece was run by generals and fanatic nationalists. As for Karamanlis himself, at 47 a relatively untested politician with a reputed gift for moderation and conciliation, he lost no time in establishing his priorities. Number one is the Olympics, he said, promptly appointing himself minister of Culture, with direct responsibility for the Games. "The entire image of modern Greece will be judged" by how it handles the Games, he declared.
If so, that judgment could be harsh. With five months to go, preparations lag far behind schedule. Most outsiders believe Athens is flirting with disaster. Some competition sites are now scheduled for completion less than two months before the Games begin. The Olympic Stadium and the swimming pool have no roofs yet; Athens' main Constitution Square is an excavation site. Critical infrastructure remains unfinished, including rail links where tracks haven't yet been laid, let alone the trains and trams tested. Work was even halted on the marathon route, which replicates Phillipides' heroic run from Marathon in 490 B.C., pushing its scheduled completion back by three months. One local newspaper summed up the dubious progress with a cartoon showing a worker running a hose into an empty pool as an Olympic diver is poised to plunge.
Rather than further muddle a bad situation, the change of government may help. "It's a blessing in disguise," says Nicholas Rizopoulos at Adelphi University in New York. "The mayor of Athens, the head of the Greek Olympic Committee and the P.M. are now all from the same party. They can get together to twist arms and bring off a half-successful Olympics" not least, he adds, by putting a stop to the cronyism and alleged under-the-table financial dealings that delayed projects under the Socialists.
Olympic organizers are trying to put the best gloss on their troubles. Over platters of sardines, calamari and silver snapper at an Athens seaside restaurant, IOC vice president Kevan Gosper could only urge reporters, "Don't just see how much work there is to be done. Remember how much has already been done." Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of Athens 2004, acknowledged concerns but pledged, "We haven't come this far to let challenges like these stop us now."
Not all those "challenges" are entirely Greece's fault. A burgeoning security plan with costs estimated to approach $US1 billion, three times that of Sydney four years ago insisted upon chiefly by the United States has delayed work. And Greeks resent a world view that tends to judge Olympics against Sydney's stunning success and by Hollywood standards. While nightly light shows are, in fact, planned for the Parthenon, locals believe the rest of the world lacks respect for the unique interplay of culture and history that Greece inherently brings to the Games. "Our Olympics will be one of peace, friendship and noble competition," says Spyros Capralos, general secretary of Athens 2004.
Still, it is hard to fully embrace such noble sentiments while so much of the city looks more like a construction site than an archeological paradise. If the Athens Games are regarded as a flop by any standard it could have devastating consequences for tourism and other industries that Greece hopes to showcase to the world. Locals seem to be counting on a cultural phenomenon they call "Greek magic" to save the day. They insist that Greece always rallies late in the game, gets its act together and salvages its critical endeavors. "We are similar to the nonfavorite runner in a marathon who is not noticed much as he struggles somewhere in the middle," Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni said recently. "But we are optimistic that this runner bursts ahead in the final laps, surprising the world and, perhaps, even himself." There are contingency plans for everything, adds Capralos. "The Games will happen."
That is inarguable, especially for most of the world, which experiences the Games via TV. On Aug. 13, thousands of athletes will march into the Olympic Stadium regardless of whether the soaring steel-and-glass roof is finished designed at a cost of $US158 million by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava as the showpiece of the Games. And once the competition begins, those watching the Games from home won't be affected if the new tram comes up a few stops short, nor will they be distressed if the marathon route is lined with banners and balloons rather than trees.
But the wrath of Olympic visitors who might be inconvenienced or even appalled could be costly particularly if that group includes the international press. One only has to recall the '96 Games, where tawdry commercialism, widespread systemic failures and a tragic bombing (coupled with a botched police investigation) made Atlanta, at least in Olympic parlance, synonymous with disaster.
Partly because of the world's attention, Karamanlis went out of his way last week to reassure international opinion on another (and more important) concern. Negotiations on the future of the divided island of Cyprus would not be affected by the change of government, he declared, acting quickly to end speculation that his election might derail talks set to conclude on March 22. "The course of the Cyprus problem has been agreed to by all sides, Greek and Turkish," said his new foreign minister, Petros Moliviatis emphasizing that remaining differences would be resolved by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
It was decisive showmanship. Athens, after all, is synonymous with the Olympics and all it stands for. Greece's new government is determined to keep it that way.
Article found at http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/Ed...B5?OpenDocument
okay theres a few things about this whole situation that worries me....
Firstly should Greece have been given the opportunity to host the 2004 Olympics in the first place ? ? Im all for Greece hosting the games but only if they have the resources to pull it off. This whole situation is a good sign that the country didn't have the labour or the money to hold the Olympics in the first place...
Secondly, when a situation like this arises are Greece just going to be left to struggle alone? ? The olympic games are not just for Greece, they are for the whole world so shouldn't EU member countires possibly lend a helping hand ??
It is not just in the interest of Greek citizens to have had all these venues finished by NOW in order to have them tested, not only for security reasons but for safety. Especially in a time when terrorist attacks on the Olumpic games seem inevitable.
From what I've heard only half of the olympic stadium is done...
I hope they pull it off!!!!!