2004 Games, an event for the few

Among the findings of the MRB opinion poll and the political conclusions drawn from them, we must not neglect the importance that Greeks give to next year’s Olympic Games. According to the survey, the 2004 Games are ranked at the bottom of most people’s priorities, as only a scarce 0.8 percent of respondents rate the event among the top three issues facing Greece today. Public apathy is at odds with politicians’ official remarks – including those made by Prime Minister Costas Simitis – who have repeatedly referred to the Olympics as a top national priority. What is more, public indifference remains strong despite an extensive advertising campaign. The lack of enthusiasm – which has not been witnessed in any of the previous host countries – shows that people view the Games as a national ordeal, as something that they will have to put up with and pay for. Worse, public perception is justified. As a Kathimerini editorial said 20 days ago, the 2004 Olympics were contested for and undertaken by a small group that lacked any public legitimacy and in the absence of enthusiasm for the prospect. The Games were promoted in a similar, if not wholly high-handed, fashion. Everything from the public behavior of the protagonists to the squandering of money on Olympic-related projects conveys the impression of an event that was organized by a few, for the few. Controversial projects got the green light and were hastily implemented at a much higher cost because of time pressure, while other crucial needs – like the bed shortage in hospitals – remain unaddressed. The public is overwhelmed by announcements of massive budget overruns or blatant divergences from projected spending (such as the Games’ security). All this is leavened with large doses of arrogance and delusions of grandeur, but also with the contemptuous disparagement of those who oppose the destruction of their neighborhoods – like the residents of Palaio Faliron or of Hellenikon, who are complaining about the tramway construction in their area. It seems, however, that neither the organizers nor the political classes are bothered about people’s views. Some are simply indifferent about the masses, knowing that they cannot – or they do not wish – to spoil their fiesta. Others, more concerned, are waiting for the whole thing to come to an end – and are possibly pinning their hopes on some medals so that the burden of the cost will be overshadowed by the glow of victory.