ECONOMY

Cypriot tourism industry to get boost from Olympic competitors

NICOSIA – Turn southeast from Greece, travel some 960 kilometers and you will get a sneak preview of the world’s top athletes tuning up for August’s Athens Olympics. From April, Cyprus will witness a stampede of foreign Olympic competitors eager to use the Mediterranean island to help them acclimatize for the midsummer scorch of the Games. The influx promises to be a bonanza for the Cyprus tourism industry, which hopes to use the Olympic preparations as a springboard for the island to become the athlete’s destination of choice long after the Olympic flame dies in Greece. British athletes have been using the east Mediterranean island as their warm-weather camp for the past 15 months while more will converge as the August 13 start of the Games draws closer. The Irish and the Swedes are also putting in an appearance while the Russians and Dutch, and even a few isolated Greeks, are scouting the island for suitable training grounds. «By August about two-thirds of the Olympic team, or 70 percent of (our) athletes, will be in Cyprus,» said Richard Simmons, performance manager of the British Olympic Association (BOA). Temperatures in Greece and Cyprus can reach a sizzling 35-40 degrees Celsius (86-104F) in August and adapting to the heat could be one of the biggest factors in an athlete’s performance. The BOA adopted similar tactics ahead of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when British competitors trained in Australia. Home comforts The association has signed a long-term deal with Cyprus that allows athletes to use the island for warm-weather training during the winter and to use facilities throughout the year to prepare for other major events. Most training is at facilities in Paphos, a coastal town some 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of the capital Nicosia popular with holidaymakers. The island, a former British colony, attracts huge numbers of tourists from Britain every year and has such home-from-home comforts as three-pin electric plugs and driving on the left-hand side of the road. «It’s got excellent facilities, it’s also got identical weather and climate for Athens, it’s got the Greek culture but it’s easy for Britons to acclimatize themselves, pretty much everyone speaks English,» Simmons told Reuters. Track and field and swimming venues are in high demand among pre-Olympic visitors, with other facilities not so commonplace in Cyprus, such as boxing rings, being imported by national committees. «Essentially there is a lot of demand for field and track venues and 50-meter swimming pools,» said an official at the Cyprus Tourism Organization. Swimming, tennis and boxing teams from Britain have already trained on the island and the entire track and field team are expected for a month in April. «Everything in Cyprus is nicely compact,» a British diplomat said. Swedish swimmers Cyprus, a 90-minute flight away from Athens, has also attracted Irish and Swedish athletes, local sports officials said. «The Olympic team of Ireland has been using Cyprus for about a year and the Swedes were out last year,» said Andreas Stavrou of the Cyprus Olympic Committee. Sweden is expected to send its swimming squad in April for training in Limassol. Athletes of other countries are also putting in appearances though not in such large numbers. Cyprus has Olympic-grade sports facilities mainly in the capital Nicosia, though most athletes prefer to stay closer to the sea. In a bid to maintain a steady flow of visitors all year round authorities have filled up hotels which would otherwise be closed in winter. The coastal resort of Ayia Napa, which sags under an invasion of club-goers in the summer, is transformed into a strictly disciplined soccer training camp in winter and used by East European teams. While soccer remains important, demand from other sports has suggested swimming, triathlon and cycling hold the most potential, tourism officials said. «There is immense potential for this market which helps Cyprus ease the seasonal fluctuations of tourism,» said Monica Yiatiri at the Cyprus Tourism Organization.