OPINION

A private affair

The official acknowledgment that the cost of the Olympic Games’ preparations will exceed estimates by about 1.5 billion euros underscores the dangers lurking in a handout-driven policy at a time of intense fiscal pressure. (Note that, according to unofficial estimates, the budget overrun is much higher). But it highlights something else: that the Games have been organized with no respect for taxpayers and without planning to contain excessive spending. Its publication appears to be grounded in the conviction that the importance of the Olympic Games is enough to disguise any distortions that may come to light during preparations. Faced with new evidence of budget overruns, citizens feel that the organizers do not view the Games as a national issue, but as a kind of private game, of publicity and wealth production for a small group of people whose public demeanor betrays how they perceive the Games. Not surprisingly, a combination of their behavior and their successive demands for specific regulations and extra funds has disillusioned the public. The blatant apathy shown by the population toward the Olympics (regardless of the fact that everyone wishes that they succeed), must be interpreted less as a public relations failure and more as a reflection of the way in which the event is being treated by the organizers. The citizens see those stars treating the Games as a private affair – and they react by distancing themselves from it. This lack of enthusiasm, already noticeable when Greece put in its bid for the Games (a decision made and promoted by a small group despite the lack of warm government support), was aggravated by the manner in which it was handled and the persons to whom it was assigned. Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki personifies the problems. Here is a person with a strong penchant for ostentation that is clearly reflected in the outrageous rise in cost. No explanation is given to the naive citizens, who are only expected to applaud – and, of course, cover the costs. We only have a few months left before the Games. Over these few remaining months, the government must reverse the current image and bring the organizers into line. A Games without the warm support of the Greeks will be a national failure, even if outsiders happen to admire a flawless – yet definitely expensive – event.