Diplomats laud ‘new’ city

Five ambassadors to Athens told Kathimerini they expect the Olympic Games to be a great success and attended by large crowds. They are enthusiastic about the city’s new look and insist that the world’s top sporting event is a golden opportunity for Greece to show that a country’s «size doesn’t matter.» They feel lucky that their term of office has coincided with the Games and are preparing to greet foreign visitors. Portuguese Ambassador Duarte Ramalho Ortigao believes the Olympic Games will be a success and says he feels moved that he has the opportunity to experience them at close quarters. «I’ll watch the opening ceremony, of course, and also many other events, both in the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. Besides, the president of Portugal will be coming to Greece and I shall accompany him.» Ortigao says people in his country are enthusiastic about the Games. «I know that many of my compatriots will be coming because of the symbolism of the Games returning to their homeland, and because they can combine their holidays with the Games. For sure all my children will be here!» He thinks the inconvenience caused by work on projects in Athens was worth the trouble. «Athens is a very beautiful, historic city, and with the restoration and renovation of buildings, it has become even more beautiful.» French spectators are expected in large numbers. French Ambassador Bruno Delaye believes events held recently in Paris in connection with the Olympic Games attracted attention and that the French will see a «new» Athens when they come. «It is a completely different city from what it was a few years ago,» Delaye told Kathimerini. «As in the case of Barcelona, the Olympic Games have helped changed the face of Athens. I’m pleased that so many of my friends will be here in August.» The changes to the city he has lived in for two-and-a-half years are what has struck Turkish Ambassador Mehmet Yigit Alpogan. «I’ve watched the works at close quarters and I’m very happy that they will be completed in a few days. Soon, we’ll have a new Athens. I have already invited a lot of friends and relatives to Athens, and not just for the Games,» he said. He hopes to see some of the events. «Of course, I’ll see the opening ceremony, and if Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan comes, as he said he would on his recent visit, I’ll accompany him to the events he attends.» Swimming, rowing, hockey and football are the events German Ambassador Albert Spiegel would like to see. As he joked to Kathimerini, German sports fans «don’t hold it against» the Greeks that Otto Rehhagel stayed with the Greek national team, and they are expected to turn up in Greece in August. «In fact, Germans understand why Otto is staying in Greece, that he is honoring his contract. And I’m glad of that.» As Spiegel says, many Germans who have chosen to vacation in Greece have also bought tickets for the Olympic Games. «I don’t have any official statistics but, for example, many German ministers and deputies have expressed a wish to be here. My feeling is that there will be a strong contingent from my country.» Besides, as he pointed out, Athens is now a very nice place to visit. The works «I’ve always liked Athens, but in the past two years I’ve been living here, it has changed significantly. The works have made a noticeable improvement to the traffic.» Israeli Ambassador Ram Aviram mentions the Euro 2004 soccer tournament and the victory of the Greek national team. «The triumph of the national team focused everyone’s attention on Greece. I’m sure the stadiums will be full.» Aviram says the media in Israel have been following the Olympic Games in Athens for some time. «There are special features about the history of the Games, the meaning of their return to Greece, and that they are being held in the Mediterranean, so close to Israel. And people are enthusiastic. I think the Olympic Games are a big opportunity for Greece. Organizing them might be difficult, but it’s worth the effort in the end. And that is an encouragement to small countries like ours. In a globalized world, the only way to survive is not to allow countries to lead solely because of their size.» Was he worried that we mightn’t be ready? «No, I’m convinced that miracles happen in this country.»