Greek track and field facing bleak future

A poster stuck to walls and posts around the Karaiskaki Stadium asks the prime minister to remember the Greek state’s past promises about a new track and field stadium as a replacement for the lost Karaiskaki facility. The venue was converted to a soccer stadium without a running track shortly before the Athens Olympics in 2004. The poster campaign is the work of the Piraeus division of SEGAS, track and field’s local federation, which has battled for a new stadium. The fundamental importance of track and field has been echoed in the words of politicians such as Yiannis Ioannidis, a former basketball player and leading coach who these days serves as deputy culture minister responsible for sports with the ruling conservative New Democracy party. According to Ioannidis, track and field «is the basis for all sports… Anybody who does not know about track and field cannot understand what sport is all about.» Even so, unfulfilled promises have come in abundance from both New Democracy and PASOK, the main opposition party. Since 1992, Greek track and field has raked in many medals in major international competition. But heavy clouds will gather unless considerable changes are made. In the past, many said that the country did not have enough stadiums. Nowadays, we do – at least in the cities. Questions, however, remain about their quality. The tracks at many stadiums are in poor condition, and generally many of the facilities are in need of renovation. Also, many stadiums with running tracks offer preferential treatment to soccer clubs based there. In such cases, track and field athletes are not permitted to train there while soccer clubs are at work. Highlighting the woes, an emerging steeplechase prospect, Jamie-Alexandros Kapetanakis, a 17-year-old junior champion in national and Balkan competition, trains at a stadium in Pallini, northern Athens, a venue that is not equipped with a proper track for the steeplechase event. Greek sport in general is struggling financially. Track and field, then, cannot be the exception. It is said that coaches have not been paid for months. To conclude where this story began, in Piraeus, the number of local youngsters active in track and field has decreased significantly. This downward trend will continue if the stadium promised as a replacement for Karaiskaki is not delivered. The Aghios Cosmas facility near Glyfada is too far away for young children living in Piraeus. «The situation has deteriorated… The prospects are worse than they were last year. Local administrations and environmental groups have become entangled,» said Dimitris Gerles, head of SEGAS for Piraeus. We’re not asking for a large stadium with stands. All we want is a training center.»