Britons push for Marbles

The British government yesterday came under fire from some of its own Olympians for refusing to return to Greece the so-called Elgin Marbles by next year’s Athens Games. In a coup for Greece’s campaign to right what it regards as an historical wrong, household names including Linford Christie, Daley Thompson, Alan Wells, Jonathan Edwards and Steve Smith added their voices to demands the British Museum give up the 2,500-year-old sculptures. They were among 13 top British sports stars, including Olympic ice-skating champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and England rugby union captain Will Carling, who believe the time has come for the sculptures, known as the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, to come home to their original site atop Athens’s famed Acropolis. The Marbles, mainly battle sculptures from the frieze of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis, were removed between 1802 and 1804 by Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, and shipped to London. Bruce, a Scot, was British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire which ruled Greece at the time. The fifth-century BC Marbles were given to the British Museum, where they are now housed. Their return has been a long-running dispute between Greece and Britain and the issue has flared up dramatically in the runup to next year’s Athens Olympics. It has even been suggested that London’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games could suffer over the controversy. Greece recently proposed the British Museum give back the Marbles on a long-term loan in exchange for exhibiting other Greek antiquities. But the museum rejected the idea out of hand and vowed to hold on to them in its long-held belief that the sculptures were safer in its keeping than in Greece. Alan Wells, the 100-meter champion at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, and Steve Smith, high-jump bronze medalist at the Atlanta Games in 1996, said the 13 athletes involved were just a fraction of supporters for the return of the Marbles. «If you look at the general public in Britain they are very much behind the return of the Marbles,» Smith told reporters. Wells said that as a Scotsman whose own land zealously guarded its cultural heritage, he understood why Greece wanted the Marbles back. «Scotland has a great heritage and I think the Greeks should safeguard their own heritage. Unfortunately it was Lord Elgin (a Scot) that took the Marbles and I think it is appropriate for me to say they should come back,» Wells said. The athletes are part of a widespread campaign by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, which includes British parliamentarians, archaeologists and movie stars such as Sean Connery and Judy Dench. Gary Burchett, a committee representative, said the athletes chosen were household names who would raise awareness among the British public which he said already supported the return of the Marbles by eight to one. «Athletes realize the Marbles transcend what happens on the field (of sport),» Burchett said. «(The Athens Olympics) is the perfect opportunity for the British government, the British Museum to get the Marbles closer to their birthplace.»