OPINION

Shaming the flame

The Olympic Flame is burning brightly outside the Panathenaic Stadium, ready to begin its journey around the world to spread the spirit of noble rivalry that supposedly reigns only in Greece. Two or three miles up the road, a different spirit prevailed on Sunday. A barbaric and brutal one, it nevertheless appears to be closer to our truth, our collective perception of sports. Athens was thrown into chaos for half a day so two soccer teams could stage their outdoors show – two teams that some naifs insist on treating as religions, yet which are nothing but enterprises in the hands of big shots, to play their political and economic games. If some foreign television channel split its screen in two, showing the Olympic Flame on one side and Sunday’s soccer violence on the other, we would hasten in our annoyance to condemn their vile, anti-Greek machinations. For, as we have always bragged, we are the custodians and apostles of the nobility of sport. We proclaim that we shall organize «the best, the healthiest and cleanest Games of all times.» And this despite the fact that we cannot even hold a decent soccer championship, and that we may eventually have to call for NATO assistance in order to make sure that the next match between Athens’s two main soccer rivals will not end in a bloodbath. Some people may take pride in this country, seeing the flame burn by the Panathenaic Stadium. None of those who are politically responsible for sports should. Given that ultimate responsibility for sports lies with Greece’s culture minister, who is also Greece’s prime minister, Costas Karamanlis should acknowledge that the method of hands-off governance his New Democracy party has followed until now will hardly change things in Greece’s stadiums. It would be more honest to blow out the flame ourselves, relieving us of our illusions.