SPORTS

Guidance from ex-hosts and own heritage

When Athens Olympics chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki took up the torch at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Games in 2000, she was among the first to admit that Australia’s success had left Greece with a hard act to follow. Sydney was hailed as the «best Games ever» by outgoing International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch and Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said lessons had been learned by Athens organizers who were already under fire over delays. Sydney’s often controversial Olympics Minister Michael Knight was swiftly drafted by Samaranch into the IOC’s Coordination Commission overseeing Athens. Knight, who held the dual role of minister and president of the Sydney Organizing Committee, was followed by the head of security at the 2000 Games, Peter Ryan. In the wake of the September 11 attacks in the USA, Athens found itself facing a new security environment and turned to the trusted former British policeman. Working with the Greek Defense Ministry and police, Ryan has advised on the planning for an unprecedented operation that saw the government sign over a $255-million security contract to a US-led consortium in March. The army of enthusiastic Australian volunteers who won over Sydney visitors also left skeptics wondering if Greece, the smallest country to host a Summer Games since Finland in 1952, would be able to meet the new benchmark. «Volunteers have become a determining factor in the success of the Games,» Athens 2004 volunteer program manager Olga Kikou told Reuters. «We learned from Sydney that volunteers need to understand their role in the organization of the Games and feel important and useful. Therefore, we need to have the right number of volunteers so that certain areas won’t be overstaffed and volunteers won’t feel bored and lose interest,» said Kikou. As a latecomer to the eurozone and a country still seeking convergence with its EU partners, Athens also looked back to the 1992 Games in Barcelona which were credited with sparking urban regeneration in Spain’s second city. The Greek government was quick to commission a series of showpiece architectural projects, including a giant domed roof for the Olympic Stadium, to Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. «Barcelona took the opportunity of the Olympic Games to focus redevelopment efforts on particular areas, such as the waterfront. In the planning for 2004, the post-Games use has been central to every project,» an Athens organizing committee (ATHOC) spokesperson told Reuters. Organizers point to the redevelopment of the southern coast of the city, at Faliron, where work is under way on a pedestrian bridge to open up the area to residents. Following the Paralympics in September 2004, the Olympic Village will be handed over to the publicly owned Workers’ Housing Association to create affordable homes for up to 20,000 people. Officials also cite the decision to locate ATHOC’s headquarters and the new weightlifting center in run-down neighborhoods in order to spur economic activity. Knight warned the Greeks against wholesale copying of Barcelona and Sydney. «Every successful host city plays to its own strengths rather than tries to imitate other cities,» he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. ATHOC claims their strength is Olympic heritage as the birthplace of the ancient Games and the scene of their 1896 revival. «I think our goal of offering Games on a human scale coincides with the goal of the IOC not to (expand) the Games. To bring together past history with modern facilities and modern technology will be a great legacy,» said ATHOC Director Spyros Kapralos.