Legacies, fallouts, and implications: The 2004 Games resound more widely

In a week when the Olympic flag was planted atop Mount Everest by Greek mountaineers – who successfully assaulted the world’s highest peak from both south and north simultaneously – and when Greece’s Olympics was the main topic of conversation at a Bush White House luncheon just yesterday, Olympics attention has clearly been shifting to the international dimension and to the potential longer-term legacy of the Athens Games. This was so even as new operational details about city operations during August poured forth. Decisions were also made in Lausanne regarding future Games (some of which may reflect the Athens experience to this point) and the future of some Olympic sports (leaving endangered species baseball, softball, and modern pentathlon on the schedule at least through 2008). Following their final pre-Games inspection visit last week in Athens, the International Olympic Committee – in the form of its Executive Committee – whittled down the impressively long list of applicants for the 2012 Games. Next year is now Those events are still a long way off and won’t be assigned until July 2005, but the planning and maneuvering is already under way. Nine cities had applied for 2012, and five are left after the first «cut»: four from Europe alone (Paris, Madrid, London and Moscow, in that order of early IOC preference), and New York. Four didn’t make the grade: Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Leipzig, and Havana. Athens didn’t apply. Speculation abounds both before and after such decisions. In this case, the standard thinking has gone something like this: Asia (Beijing) got the 2008 Games and North America the 2010 Winter Games (in Vancouver, Canada), so Europe is the odds-on favorite again for 2012. New York is hard to judge; a sentimental choice because of September 11, it has never hosted the Games before and is serious this time. Madrid ran strongly, despite the bombings there in March. Meanwhile, Paris fared best in its bid to be the first three-time host (but first since 1924), and London did OK too in its bid for a third Games (first since 1948), despite a lousy train system – and even put Olympic running great Sebastian Coe as its bidding chairman as soon as the results were in. Had Salzburg (Austria) prevailed for the 2010 Winter Games, the opposite trend would have kicked in: The 2012 nod would be more likely to go to North America. But all that last part is speculation, since they won’t decide until next year. Clear now? All this seemingly has little to do with 2004, although there is some fallout. The perceived problems of Athens, the construction delays and the security fears, have most likely fueled a desire to land the next-but-one Summer Games in cities fully capable of handling the technological and logistical demands, and at least to address the increasing environmental concerns that arise. Thus the IOC is likely to plump for one of the big three, Paris, London or New York (but unlikely to cancel its recent cancellation insurance policy). Moscow held the 1980 Games, although as the weakest of the five, it could well be cut before the final voting in Singapore next summer. The losers, meanwhile, believe they were stiffed, at least partly because of the Athens experience. Rio has a local crime problem (though it’s hardly unique there), suggesting security issues of a different sort, and Istanbul was thwarted perhaps by a conservative bent in the IOC that shied away from such a big commitment anywhere in the Islamic world; plus the city is in Greece’s neighborhood. Both the Istanbul and Rio bid committees were hopping mad about losing out, though the latter may be mollified by hosting the World Cup in 2014, a full decade from now, yet near enough to matter in world sporting terms. And Leipzig was mad because of a perception it’s just too small; they wonder why they weren’t told in the first place, to save them the trouble. If it seems like a game within the Games, with happy winners and sore losers, it all speaks of the huge impact that the Games have on the host city and even country. One growing trend is to use the Games to develop and upgrade depressed areas of cities, while showing the rest of it off and raising visibility. London, for example, plans to develop east London for many of the venues. Athens, at least, has helped reinforce this trend after Sydney, which had built in decrepit Homebush Bay, and Barcelona. Some of the Athens venues are located in less affluent areas of the city (Ano Liosia, Peristeri, Nikaia), while the Olympic coastal zone at Faliron has given new attention to a neglected part of the coast, even if a new Garden of Eden never quite emerged. With China hurtling into the future with rapid-fire commercial development that some say is heading for a crash within the context of a one-party state and the most expensive (by far) Olympic plan, could 2008 be shaping up as a potential major problem? Some day we may actually look back on the Athens preparations and think how refreshing it was that we were worried about things like construction delays and contractors gone bust and train systems that won’t get finished. Problems really can be much worse than that. And miles to go Speaking of which, 2008 is a long way off, while Athens is looming. Another bomb, this time quite near the Hellenikon sports complex on the south coast, was found and destroyed earlier this week, but not before a futile first search led to a second one hours later, and caused yet another embarrassment for the unprecedented security effort under way. Now there are new machines on hand to search for explosives with less risk. Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis’s comment in a recent interview, that there was «little left to be done» regarding security, might have been a little premature, or hyperbolic in the wrong direction. Yesterday, Games-time transport arrangements were unveiled at an information-heavy press conference that will require two months, not two hours, to digest. Seven people, including Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, introduced the city transport system, both for the Olympic «family» (some 220,000 people), including athletes, media, technicians, and officials (prepare to be informed about T1, T2 and T3, etc.) and for everybody else, including Athenians who still have to get to work. Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, organizing committee head, said it would «change our daily life, but for a very, very short time.» It is very clear that these officials have dedicated huge time and thought to creating a genuinely integrated transport system for Athens, without a «prettified or touched-up picture.» The brief highlights include a plan to boost Athenian usage of public transport by a huge 50 percent during (and, we hope, after) the Games; use of three key hubs for media traffic; «park-and-ride» schemes for outside the city center; relative freedom for two-wheeled transport; and special Olympic bus lines, some running around the clock. The aim is to revolutionize city transport patterns while ensuring that it’s a public «choice, not an obligation» forced down their throats. Expectations are very high, but it will not be easy. One example was of the tram network, prioritized as an Olympics work but which won’t even be operational in the city center during the Games because it will get in the way of the special Olympics traffic. It all begs the question of why it was needed in the first place. A full transport guide will be forthcoming next month. Conduct unbecoming It is always fun to have Olympic stories to warm the heart. The antics of several groups of foreign journalists (British and German) in slipping into the Olympic complex at night, snooping around before being caught in order to test «security arrangements» at what are still construction sites (and write later on about how bad they were) led to some hand-wringing at the organizing committee. ATHOC at first misstated that full security would be in place from June 1 (just two weeks from now); July 1 is the right date. After that, enterprising journalists won’t get off with a rap on the knuckles, but risk being dangled from the high roof by their toenails for a day. That’ll teach ’em.

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