Post-Olympic sport in Greece left to chance and whimsy

Protests have been mounting against the Greek sporting world’s political leadership, regarding the way it has been doing – or rather, not doing – its job. «Before the Olympic Games I said the victim [afterward] would be the Greek people, who would pay and will pay for them. Now I say that the victim was sport itself,» said Dimitris Avramos, a Greco-Roman wrestling champion, in an interview. He was merely echoing others who foretold that sports in Greece would end with the Games’ closing ceremony, despite governmental claims to the contrary, and several isolated success stories. The bronze medal in the world water polo championships came on the heels of the win in 2003. The recent European basketball championship gold would have had even greater value had the best teams been playing at full strength. After all, this is a sport on the wane in Europe, as is clear from the fact that countries that once produced top players are granting citizenship to American players. A few isolated distinctions in individual sports are not enough to conceal the systemic problems lurking beneath. Greece will likely see even fewer international successes in coming years if the war being waged by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) continues. This is no bad thing in itself, for sports are not only for champions. Greece has never had a true sporting tradition. Even when it was reaping its weightlifting medals or winning events at track and field championships that much was clear to anyone in the know. The problem begins early. A child is selected as right for a particular sport if he or she has a knowledgeable sports teacher at school, or an enthusiastic parent. Otherwise, it’s up to chance. This problem is linked to the general future of sports in Greece, which is facing major problems – mainly of a financial nature – now that the Olympics are over. That was only to be expected, but not quite to this extent. Protests lodged against those in authority are mounting, as are debts owed to coaches, athletes, associations and federations. Athletes’ and coaches’ relationships with their federations are strained. In the boxing federation, staff are going unpaid due to a dispute between the administration (affiliated with the ruling New Democracy party) and Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Orfanos, who holds the sports portfolio. In weightlifting, some domestic matches were actually canceled; just one male and one female athlete were sent to an international meet. The national baseball team’s participation in the world cup was canceled. Per diem payments to cycling champions were reduced, then cut. Most of the new stadiums and gymnasiums built for the Games are still closed. At some point they will open, but no one knows who will benefit from them. Greece must hold the world record in one more area: A year after the Games, there are no sites available for track training.