SPORTS

Running ‘below the poverty line’

In view of the Athens 2004 Olympics, a group of some of the country’s leading track and field athletes, as well as trainers, combined their clout yesterday to visit the Greek Parliament and lodge official complaints about a variety of problems including poor accommodation and training facilities at the capital’s Olympic Stadium and poor financial terms. Included in the group was Costas Kenteris, the defending Olympic and World champion in the men’s 200 meters; fellow sprinter Katerina Thanou, the silver medalist in the women’s 100 meters at the Sydney Olympics and bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships; long-jumper Niki Xanthou, silver medalist at the 1997 World Championships and fourth at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics; and high-jumper Niki Bakoyianni, silver medalist in Atlanta. The athletes were received by the Parliament’s Educational Affairs Committee, headed by former Sports Minister Giorgos Lianis. Kenteris shed light on what he considered substandard training and accommodation facilities for Greek athletes based at Thessaloniki’s Kaftadzogleio Stadium. Highlighting the stagnancy at the second city’s biggest stadium, Kenteris said no progress had been made on projects there between 1992 and March of last year. Thanou complained about the lack of medical backup for athletes. «We’re being patient and will continue to be patient,» she said. On their visit, athletes and trainers also brought up an assortment of other issues, including what they viewed as low bonuses, high taxation rates, and delayed payments. The trainer Christos Tzekos, who has been behind the efforts of the sprinters Kenteris and Thanou, underlined that the bonus money being offered by the State for an Olympic gold medal could not cover the purchase of a modest apartment. Echoing Tzekos, his colleague Dimitris Hadzopoulos said that, at present, he was training five athletes, two of which had no access to funds. «My wife and I are helping them out,» Hadzopoulos said. Theodoros Pangalos, an MP with the ruling PASOK party, said some athletes were living «below the poverty line.» The culture minister, Evangelos Venizelos, told the athletes that new training and accommodation facilities being constructed at the Aghios Cosmas complex in southern Athens would offer solutions to some of the problems. Opposition MP and former Sports Minister Fani Palli-Petralia, however, countered Venizelos by stating that the Aghios Cosmas project had been plagued by delays. The deputy culture minister, Yiannis Kourakis, the government’s top sports official, said the complex in the capital’s south would be ready by early this summer. Pangalos interjected that, in his own constituency of Western Attica, no construction of sports venues has taken place recently. «Do we expect athletes to spring up miraculously as soon as the foundations are laid?» he said.