Most of Athens’s Olympic installations are in a state of collapse, abandoned, wretched reminders of modern Greece’s many plagues: grandiose visions and lost hopes, huge cost overruns, sloppy management of our assets and a tragic inability to build on what we have instead of tearing it down and starting again. Even the International Olympic Committee is threatening to expel us because of a bill that allegedly will deprive sports federations of autonomy. Twelve years after Athens 2004 and six after the great Greek crisis began, these thoughts should not deepen our melancholy but rather spur us to seek ways out of the impasse.
Rio de Janeiro is preparing to host the world in the Summer Games later this year. Tokyo is next in 2020. In 2012, London put on a grand show and in 2008 it was Beijing’s turn. In summer and winter games, the Olympic Flame continues its travels far from the Games’ birthplace on the banks of the Alpheios River in the Peloponnese. Each host city and country does the best it can – and then, with very few exceptions, it is left exhausted and deep in debt. Greece exceeded all expectations and put on an excellent Games, along with great opening and closing ceremonies; then, like a doped athlete, we carried on spending borrowed money, unable to come down to earth. Until our collapse.
The Athens Games are not to blame for the crisis, but the factors which led to the waste of our national effort and our Olympic legacy are the same ones which drove us to bankruptcy. Today Brazil is experiencing a crisis of its own – as in Athens, it’s not the Olympics that are to blame but the specific problems in the country’s politics and economy. The Zika virus and Rio’s pollution also take some of the shine off the Games. As economic problems spread, the high cost of installations, infrastructure and security will weaken interest in hosting the Olympics. Just last year, Hamburg’s residents voted against bidding to host the 2024 Games.
Without pressure, without patriotic outbursts about Greek patrimony of the Games, perhaps the time is coming to remind the world that a permanent home in Greece might be a good idea. We have the installations, the climate is good, the country lovely. Our people showed in 2004, and then with the economic and refugee crises, that we can surpass ourselves and overcome everyday problems. We have no industry and little production, our demographics are grim, and red tape and high taxes and social security dues choke enterprise. On our own we have little hope of surviving. If, however, we were to undertake the Olympics and prove worthy of this, we would save ourselves and the Games.