Sports is another universe into which all of us descend to various degrees. Some live within the spectacle as athletes, coaches, managers, journalists, employees, sponsors, the more zealous fans, and so on. Others are permanent satellites, such as supporters and the drivers of trains carrying hooligans. And the rest of us dip in occasionally, to participate or watch. Our relationship with sports is both individual and collective. And it is, of course, both personal and national. At a time of limited wars (or, at least, a time when nations at war are not usually as obsessed with sports to the same degree as others), national pride finds expression on a daily level almost solely through support for countries’ national teams or individual athletes. As the bright televisual eye of the world seldom turns onto a country and its people for an event not related to coups, terrorism and earthquakes, sports events are the utmost reality show – in which Big Brother is the couch potato slouching on the global couch. The way we support our teams becomes a window for the world to see how we behave as a nation. The way we organize major sports events shows the world our weaknesses and our failings. The way our athletes behave on and off the playing field becomes a metaphor for our ethnic character: Are we strong under pressure? Do we have talent? More importantly, do we have discipline? Are we gracious winners? Are we good losers? Are we serious people or are we hysterics? Do our athletes use their pedestal to be role models or to reach higher for their own gratification? Sportsmen and women stand up there, a part of our lives, as much as if they were our relatives, friends, neighbors, politicians, pop artists, actors and anyone who is part of our immediate or virtual reality. To the rest of the world, which is not watching our inane local comedies or listening to our derivative pop, our athletes, and our fans, are ourselves. Very often they do us proud. Our track and field athletes and our weightlifters, especially, have put on such a good show in recent years that even the most jaded among us are beginning to wonder whether the Greeks have managed to tap again into their famous reserves of skill, resilience and discipline. When we see our harvest of gold at major athletic events, we wonder whether our country as a whole might not follow the methods of our athletes and win the same glory. And then there are times of spectacular, almost entertaining failure – such as this past week. We saw our national basketball team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, throwing away a 22-point lead in a match against Germany, and get sent back from the European basketball championships in Turkey before the quarterfinals. And then, on an even bigger stage (a World Cup qualifier), our soccer team, sporting its brand-new German coach, crashes to Finland, 5-1. Over the same week, the international media made much of the unsporting behavior of the Turkish crowds, cheering their home team in the basketball tournament while jeering and whistling incessantly whenever their rivals touched the ball. In Tunis, at the Mediterranean Games, even the Greeks were shocked at the hooliganism in the weightlifting arena, where the crowd did its best to break the concentration of the rivals of hometown athletes. And it takes quite a bit to shock the Greeks, who are renowned for having introduced soccer-style hooliganism to basketball in Europe. Sadly, one cannot even use the metaphor It’s not cricket in lamenting this lack of sportsmanship, in an era where many of that genteel lunacy’s luminaries have been implicated in the most sordid match-rigging. Unless, of course, we adopt cricket as the touchstone for what is or is not fair. With the illusion of amateurism dying a belated death, and with the stakes so high, a new definition has to be found. In which case we might need to look no further than the awe-inspiring tennis match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at the US Open quarter-final on Thursday. Here were the two best players of their generation, fighting point by point to prove themselves once again at a time when youngsters with their youthful vigor seemed to have overwhelmed these seasoned battlers, two lions in the fall. The match could have gone either way as neither warrior gave an inch. And in the end, after a three-and-a-half-hour war, Sampras won. It was awesome, he said. That’s probably about as good as it gets, playing the very best on a night match at the US Open. It was so close. It really was. And Agassi: A match like this just boils down to a few shots, and that’s the difficulty in it and that’s the beauty in it… You have to give credit where credit is due. Pete played the big points well and pulled out a match that’s disappointing for me, but I’m glad to be a part of it. And so are we. With those few words, an event at the other end of the earth, of a sport that we do not usually watch, that should be completely meaningless to us in our usual whirlwind of recriminations and excuses, assumes a profundity beyond any game. Saturday, September 1 Kalo mina everybody. This is the month that we all should head back to school and work and so on and so forth at this petty pace. It also heralds a month of great political maneuvering, as the ruling PASOK party heads for its early congress in just over a month. At the end of a two-day Central Committee meeting that was called to prepare for the congress, Prime Minister Costas Simitis tells his party’s elite that, contrary to demands from dissenters, he will not change his government’s economic policy. The meeting itself was a reasonably stately affair, with none of the aggression and anger that was expressed by dissidents when they smelled blood in the government’s hasty retreat on social security reform. Now no one wants to challenge Simitis, who, by lying low, seems to have gained the upper hand again. The congress, in the end, might just result in his having a renewed mandate in PASOK. Nothing that we have achieved should be put at risk, he tells his party, ignoring the fact that the party turbulence (for which his handling of the social security issue plays such an important role) has done so much to jeopardize any achievements. Sunday, September 2 Christiaan (Chris to South Africans) Barnard, the pioneering surgeon who carried out the first human heart transplant in 1967, dies suddenly while on a holiday on Cyprus. Barnard, 78, was sitting by a swimming pool at a luxury hotel when he collapsed, prompting initial suspicions of a fatal heart attack. An autopsy will show that his heart was fine and that he died of complications from an asthma attack. It was perhaps a good end for someone who had lived so well and loved and been loved so much. Among his many honors, he had been granted Greek citizenship and the freedom of the city of Paphos, where he died. It is oddly fitting that Barnard, who was married three times and had six children and made no secret of his delight in sex, died where myth says that mighty Aphrodite emerged from the sea and entered the hearts of men. – A major search and rescue operation is launched off Preveza, western Greece, when the pilot of a Cessna says he is ditching into the sea due to engine failure after hitting a storm. The pilot is the only person aboard the single-engine plane. -Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the London-based Cypriot entrepreneur and owner of easyJet, says that, contrary to a report, the former king of Greece has not approached him to buy the home of his late mother, Frederika, in Psychico, Athens, so that he can move to Greece. The villa, Haji-Ioannou says, is not up for sale anyway. – Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios urges the Turkish government to open the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki off Istanbul. Turkey closed it down in 1971, starving the Patriarchate of young clerics. A few hours later, Constantine Dafermos, a wealthy Greek who is named Archon of the Patriarchate for making a major donation, is detained at Istanbul airport as he is about to leave for Greece. The Turkish police say they are acting on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol in relation to Italian charges that Dafermos was behind an illegal shipment of weapons found in the Adriatic in 1994. The detained Dafermos’s lawyers claim that he is the victim of mistaken identity. He has 40 days in a Turkish jail to prove that this is so. – The Greek basketball team beats Bosnia 101-77 in Antalya, in a match marred by fisticuffs that result in seven members from each team being sent to the dressing room. Monday, September 3 Demosthenes Dimitropoulos, 46, the missing pilot, swims ashore at Mytikas near Preveza, 10 hours after ditching his plane. He is exhausted and cold but otherwise fine. He could see the planes and ships searching for him in the storm but knew they would not be able to spot him, so he swam toward the shore. – Serres coroner Minas Georgiades says that a human skull found by a diver at a depth of two meters near Kavala could be that of Julie Scully, a 31-year-old model from the United States who was murdered and beheaded by her Greek fiance in 1999. The skull belongs to a woman aged 20-34 and had been in the water for up to three years, the coroner says. DNA testing is to be done in Athens to confirm whether this is the missing head. The rest of Ms. Scully’s body had been found shortly after the murder. Meanwhile, the results of DNA testing on the skeleton found two weeks earlier at the western end of Greece, near Igoumenitsa, have still not been announced. – Dimitra Margeti, a member of the teenage Satanist Gang that rocked Greece in 1993 with its grisly murder of two young women, is paroled after serving eight years of her 17-year sentence. She puts in a star turn with an impromptu news conference outside Korydallos prison. It is a just matter of time before she has her own television show. – More from our galaxy of crime: The British authorities finally extradite Takis Krambis, 47, who is wanted here for allegedly masterminding the kidnapping and murder of businessman Giorgos Nikolaidis, 45, and his assistant Soula Kalathaki, 32, in 1997. Krambis fought against his extradition for a year and a half. Now he says, I have faith in Greek justice. – There is wild rejoicing in PASOK at the announcement by Costas Laliotis, the party’s machiavellian election and public relations strategist and seemingly eternal minister of public works, will seek to become general secretary at the party congress. It is almost embarrassing the way the incumbent, Costas Skandalides, is presented as a nonentity. – German President Johannes Rau says, We might be facing a political crisis again, over the reparations issue in Greece. – We have another crisis, though. The Greeks get sent packing from the European basketball championships after losing 80-75 to the Germans, having squandered a 22-point lead. A memorable achievement. Tuesday, September 4 An appeals court rejects the German state’s request to block the auction of the Goethe Institute and German school of archaeology. The auction, in order to compensate the relatives of victims of the Distomo massacre in 1944, is scheduled for September 19. A high court is to decide by then whether Greek courts have jurisdiction in the case. – The Church of Greece’s Holy Synod meets for the first time with its new formation. Two newcomers are the metropolitans of Thebes and Ioannina, implacable critics of Archbishop Christodoulos who were strongly opposed to his identity card imbroglio. Maybe with fewer yes-men on the body that runs the Church on a day-to-day basis the archbishop will act more prudently. Ever the good loser, Christodoulos presents the Synod with a statement slamming the government, only to have the two dissenters oppose it. – After a Cabinet meeting aimed at setting out the framework of next year’s economic policy, Simitis announces that his government will not change its economic priorities and will remain focused on stability and social spending. The one pole is stability and development and the other is social policy, the strengthening of the new social state, he says. He also announced 845 billion drachmas in funds to help the needier members of society until 2004. – Traffic accidents dropped by 14.1 percent between January and August this year, as a result of stricter policing, police say. So what were they doing all the previous years? Wednesday, September 5 Gymnast Demosthenes Tambakos wins gold on the rings at the Mediterranean Games, adding to his gold in the European Championships and silver at the Sydney Olympics. He is one of the handful of athletes who continually do Greece proud with their quiet hard work and brilliant achievements. – Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash declares that he will not accept UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s invitation to resume talks aimed at solving the Cyprus issue, seeing as his breakaway state has not been granted international recognition. President Glafcos Clerides says he will make the September 12 date. The Turks and Denktash then immediately begin to hedge their bets, saying that something might still be done. Meanwhile, the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopts a report warning Turkey that if it goes ahead and annexes the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus when the island joins the EU it will put an end to its own EU candidacy. Ankara angrily declares that it never threatened to annex the area, only to integrate more thoroughly with it. – Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds and Afghans land on the coast of Evia at Mandoudi, prompting a huge manhunt on the one hand and a huge relief effort on the other. – Greece loses 5-1 to Finland in a soccer World Cup qualifier. Neither team had a hope of qualifying, but the Greeks seem to have had their minds more on the coming games they will play for their other teams, the ones they get paid by. In Tunis, the Greek swimming team racks up two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze. – Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Juergen Chrobog, says the Greek government should put an end to the reparations issue, saying Germany can’t get into a new discussion on this. Unfortunately for him, Germany is in just such a discussion. – An opinion poll made public by Flash Radio finds that 50.1 percent of Greeks want their religion written on their identity cards and another 23.4 percent believe this should be optional. On the other hand, 52.1 percent agree with President Costis Stephanopoulos’s rejecting Christodoulos’s demand for a referendum. Do we know what we want? The poll also finds PASOK taking a slim lead over New Democracy for the first time in months. This prompts an angry reaction from the conservatives, who suggest that the poll was rigged – unlike all those that put them ahead of the government in the past months. – A new turn in a road of many turns. It emerges that Integrated Airline Solutions, an Australian-led consortium, has been invited to make an improved bid for Olympic Airways, when it looked like Greece’s Axon was about to clinch the deal. Thursday, September 6 In the midst of all the ephemera, we hear from the Culture Ministry that archaeologists have discovered a 6,500-year-old settlement on the island of Andros that is probably the earliest fortified settlement in the Aegean and one of the largest of the period in Greece. The site at Strofilia is at least 1,500 years older than the first settlement at Troy and about 3,000 years older than the period of which Homer wrote. What tales every stone in Greece could tell. – After much huffing and puffing and angry posturing, the deputies in the Skopje Parliament line up and vote by 91 to 19 to adopt the peace deal the government and opposition signed with the ethnic Albanians. Friday, September 7 More from the underworld. Police arrest Christos Papadopoulos, the mastermind of the notorious Murder Incorporated gang, who would kill lonely, elderly people in order to get their hands on their fortunes. The perfect bourgeois crime in Greece. Papadopoulos, 63, had been on the run for five months after failing to return to prison from furlough. He was serving eight life sentences. What are five months against a backdrop of eternity? – It is two years since the earthquake that shook Athens out of its complacency with widespread death and destruction. Like all disasters, some peoples’ lives are changed forever. There are 143 dead and thousands still using containers for homes. The rest of us are sinking slowly below the waves of complacency again. But something inside us still trembles like a seismograph.