NEWS

Olympic legacy: Athens, 12 months later

A year ago today, all eyes were on Greece. The opening ceremony for the Summer Olympic Games in Athens inaugurated two weeks of what turned out to be a very successful Olympiad. Even though some sectors of the international community doubted Greece’s ability to organize these Games without incidents and glitches, the country drew all-around praise for its Olympic results. Now the government is suffering from post-Olympic headaches. The exorbitant cost – 13 billion euros at the last official count – has created a pressing need to exploit the Olympic venues and cut back on state spending in order to pay off loans drawn to fund infrastructure projects and venues. The government says these Games will have long-term benefits. For instance, private initiatives now under way, such as the leasing of stadiums, will eventually help bring in revenue. Sectors such as tourism are already experiencing an upswing. Because of the Olympics, the country has an improved image abroad. Also, the expensive new public transportation works have made daily life for Athenians somewhat easier, even if most of them still refuse to leave their cars at home. Improvements in the health sector have transpired through the hands-on experience of coordinating services last summer. Greece is also exporting know-how about security. Yet the previous government’s slapdash approach to planning, as well as the years of delay in completing the projects, means works such as the tram or suburban rail line are not being used as efficiently as they could be. Still, the sporting venues will not be wasted. The Athletics World Cup will be held in Athens in 2006, along with several other international events. But the high cost of maintaining and operating them (about 100 million euros) is forcing the government to speed up privatization ventures.