The central Greek cities of Volos and Larissa lost the right to host the 2013 Mediterranean Games on January 28, as the international committee overseeing the event acted on the Greek authorities? reported intention to dramatically cut the games? budget and a lack of guarantees from Athens for the event.
In an extraordinary meeting in Paris, the governing body of the International Committee for the Mediterranean Games (ICMG) voted 12 to 1 in favor of taking the 2013 event away from the Greek cities it had awarded it to in 2007.
?I can confirm that the decision has been made to move the games from Greece,? ICMG president Amar Addadi told Reuters. ?We have not decided as yet on the new venue but there are several alternatives,? he added.
The Algerian official did not explain the reasons for the decision, but mentioned the intention of the Greek government to strip the event down to the basics, overturning the pledges made during the bidding process.
Reports suggested the government cited the financial crisis and planned to slash the budget from 358 million euros to just 126 million, cutting down on provisions for officials and the 7,000 or so athletes and even skipping the building of a residential complex to host them, opting instead to accommodate them on luxury cruise ships and in a revamped technical college.
Due to financial constraints resulting from the debt crisis, authorities decided against constructing a residential complex for the athletes, who instead were to be put up in housing for technical college students in the two cities.
The government also reportedly failed to supply the ICMG with the guarantees it had been waiting for since last year, which was a major worry for the committee.
A government source suggested yesterday that Greek authorities were disappointed but not entirely surprised by the decision. ?They wanted certain luxuries which had to be cut,? the source said. ?We had said that the games would take place the way that we wanted.?
The Mediterranean Games is the region?s version of the Olympics. The multisport event has been held every four years since 1951 and involves 23 nations. Athens successfully hosted the event in 1991.
With the games just over two years away, the decision is unprecedented in the event?s history and deals a bad blow to the country?s prestige in the domains of sports and culture, according to officials and politicians.
?This is a slap for Greece, as it constitutes a blow to the prestige and the significance of the country in the sporting world. This was something we could have avoided by returning the games ourselves last year when we had the chance,? said Hellenic Olympic Committee president Spyros Kapralos, referring to the warning the ICMG had issued to Greece last spring.
The only member of the ICMG executive committee to vote against Greece losing the games was Isidoros Kouvelos, the Greek general secretary of the ICMG and head of the bidding committee that earned Volos and Larissa the games four years ago.
?I am particularly disappointed, as we did our best in 2007 to get the games. The inertia and lack of communication between the government and the ICMG cost us dearly in this case,? said Kouvelos.
The government had repeatedly issued assurances to the media and to Volos and Larissa authorities that the games would not be taken away and that everything was going according to plan.
It was only last week that Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Giorgos Nikitiadis presented a parliamentary committee with a draft law for the preparation of the games, stating that ?the aim is to host the games adequately at the lowest possible cost, to upgrade the region of Thessaly through infrastructure projects, to highlight selected areas as tourism destinations and to develop sports education in local communities. This is a great chance for the development and the promotion of Thessaly.?
Reactions at the local level included disappointment and anger regarding the decision and the government?s strategy that led to the loss of the Mediterranean Games for Volos and Larissa.
?There is serious political responsibility for the delays, the time lost since undertaking the games, the government?s decision to go back on contractual commitments and the consequences this decision entails,? Volos Mayor Panos Skotiniotis stated.
?Without ever believing in the unrealistic expectations created, it was our view that the event was a considerable opportunity for our city and Thessaly in general,? he added.
?The people of Larissa and Thessaly feel betrayed,? stated Larissa Mayor Constantinos Tzanakoulis.
?It is clear that the government and the Finance Ministry had for some time now decided to avoid the hosting of the games, ignoring all alternative solutions submitted by the organizing committee and the two town councils.?
?I am particularly disappointed to hear this news, it is such a shame,? was the immediate reaction of rower Vassilis Polymeros, who hails from Volos and was a gold medalist at the 2009 Mediterranean Games in Italy.