The Olympic challenge

Nearly a year after the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics, Greece is still struggling to find ways to exploit the legacy left to it after the Games. Unfortunately, the country has not done much at all. In some sectors the trend is almost self-destructive; how else can one describe the situation in coastal shipping services, which tests the endurance of travelers and is giving the country such a bad name at such a vital juncture for our tourism industry? This newspaper had opposed Greece holding the Games, for a very simple reason – the country is too small to bear the gigantic cost of hosting a modern Olympics. At the same time, it is a country where poor standards of state administration, combined with closely entangled business and political interests, left no room for optimism that the costs could be contained within reasonable limits. Unfortunately, the results confirmed people’s fears. The overall price tag was indeed colossal and much of the money was channeled into projects of limited usefulness. As this newspaper frequently pointed out, since the country had obligated itself to hold the Games, it needed to achieve two goals: first of all, to make them a success, which it did beyond all expectations; and, secondly, to fully exploit the positive impressions and new venues in order to increase tourism, improve life in Athens, boost growth and improve the country’s image abroad. Tourism is certainly on the increase, but the images we are presenting to our visitors, such as in coastal shipping, are undermining future potential. The Olympic venues stand virtually empty and abandoned and hopes for exploiting them have been restricted to leasing them out to the private sector, where interest is uncertain. No arrangements have been made for any public use of these installations nor for any landscaping of their surroundings. Athenians themselves have begun to forget the Olympics, apart from the extensions to the metro lines and the new highways. The first anniversary of the Athens Oympics is upon us, yet its potentially significant legacy in both infrastructure and impressions has not been properly exploited. If we are not careful, it will be lost forever. If this happens, we will have wasted the entire Olympic effort. Greece will have expended huge resources to no real purpose. The 200 Olympic Games will go down in history not as an achievement, but as a national ordeal.