Do sports and politics mix? Some say they should not, but the answer is, "yes"--they do not only mix with politics but also with other factors such as economics and drugs. The last factor has been one of the major problems of sporting events, especially the Olympic Games. A few years ago, the whole world had admired the athletic prowess of the former communist states. A small country like the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and other communist countries were getting so many medals in the Olympics, in 1976 especially. Those countries seemed to invest too much time and financial resources in training their athletes who rendered their homelands tremendous pride and international political prestige to them, and to communist ideology for that matter. In these cases sports and politics were in tandem, and so was the research in increasing the athletic power of sporting individuals with anabolics, the so-called doping. Then the admiration for the communist states athletic prowess evaporated quickly. Their athletes' health was ruined, although the they were rewarded financially. The control of doping by athletes had become one of the biggest problems in sporting events. Even in "Sydney 2000," which had promised a "clean" Olympiad, many doping cases were reported despite the strict controls applied and several medals had to be recalled.
Reacting to these developments, many people have called for the return of the ancient Greek Olympic ideal. The Olympiads have become the greatest athletic spectacles, the most exciting and the most expensive performances which have "deviated" from the classical ideal. The classical Olympic winners' honor was the plain olive branch crown. The classical Olympic Games, however, have been excessively idealized and this predilection has been boosted by the museum built in Lausanne, Switzerland, the seat of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The museum documents the history of the Olympics and gives various data on the ancient Olympiads and famous winners in those events. The museum, however, is silent over doping, boycotts of the Games, and their exploitations by authoritarian regimes and sponsors. Theoretically, the museum's place should have been in Olympia, its Greek birthplace. But Greece is in the Balkans, the "cockpit of Europe," and neutral, peaceful Switzerland was considered a better place for the seat of the IOC and the museum. "Sydney 2000" was declared the "greatest Olympiad ever," and with "Athens 2004," Greece has promised to present a "successful and clean return" to the classical Olympic ideal.
Myth and Reality
The Olympic Games can be traced back to prehistory. In Olympia, in Peloponnesus, athletic events were held in honor of famous Titans and gradually led to a Pan-Hellenic event, the Olympiad. Greek legend has it that a certain Hercules from Crete with his brothers organized races whose winners were crowned with the cotinos or olive branch crown. Olympia played host to the Games and it became the permanent venue and sacred athletic center of ancient Greece. The sanctuary's immunity was widely recognized and its violation was severely punished. The Games were of the greatest significance to the Greeks and a uniting bond as they brought together Greeks--and also non-Greeks--from all over the regions of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Sports in ancient Greece were mixed with religion and the Olympics were held in honor of the father of gods and men, Zeus or Jupiter, and other local and national gods. The Games were also connected with culture as poets, dramatists, artists, philosophers and musicians competed for prizes in Olympia and other venues.
The first recorded Olympiad was held in 776 B.c. after which year the Greeks dated their history and numbered the Olympiads, held every four years, and in which only men competed--naked. The Olympionikis, or Olympic champion, was the greatest honor and individual could attain in ancient Greece, and songs were written and statues erected for them. But the Olympiads were also mixed with politics and finances. The Olympionikes (champions) enjoyed not only fame but also considerable other benefits. They paid no taxes, could get free meals at the government house. Sometimes the city walls were torn down in order to show that the city's "demigods," Olympic champions, were the best protectors of their homelands. Rulers issued special coins to immortalize their victories. Solon in the sixth century B.C. passed a law in Athens granting the Olympic champions of the city a bonus of 500 drachmas, a good sum when then a whole lamb cost only one drachma. Special honors were heaped on the athletes who repeated their victories in several Olympiads or in different sporting events. Kroton of Milos and Leonidas of Rhodos, winners of the 540 to 516 B.C. Olympiads and those of 164 to 152 B.C. respectively, has each won a niche in the Olympic museum in Lausanne.
The traveler and writer Pausanias refers to an interesting case in his Description of Greece (Periigisis tis Ellados). At the Olympiad of 408 B.C., Pausanias writes, something unheard of happened. A Greek named Eubotas from Cyrene, North Africa, after winning a footrace, set up his own statue which had been made for him in Cyrene and brought with him to Olympia. Erecting statues for champions was common practice in ancient Greece. The unusual thing about Eubotas was that before the Olympiad he had visited the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon in the Oasis Siwa, Egypt, and asked it if he could win a race at the next Olympiad. Eubotas claimed that the answer was "yes." There were 50 oracles in the ancient Greek world and anyone, Greek or "barbarian," could put questions to the Oracles whose sophistic answers could be variously interpreted. The most famous oracles were those at Delphi, Greece, Siwa in Egypt, Dodona in northern Greece, and Didyma in Asia Minor. Some may think that the question and answer of Eubotas might be viewed as a sort of "mental doping" in ancient times. Understandably, the Eubotas incident is not a case which could be used in the IOC's museum!
With the conquest of Alexander the Great, sporting events were transplanted all the way to the fringes of China. During the Hellenistic times deviations from the classical rules and methods occurred in Roman times particularly, professionalism, greed, money and the pursuit of fame corrupted the glory and "ideal" of the ancient Games. Thus even in ancient as in modern times, the myth and idealization of the Olympiads do not accord with reality. Sports in ancient Greece were connected not only with religion but also with politics, economics, and even pharmaceutical substances. Plinius the Younger reports perhaps the first use of drugs occurred in the first century B.C. In the ancient Olympic Games besides taking an oath to play by the rules of the Games, stiff pecuniary fines were imposed on both athletes and referees for violating the rules. The money from the fines was used to erect statues for Zeus and other gods and the names of those involved in violations of the rules, graft, or bribery were inscribed on them. No fines were foreseen for those using various substances to increase their body's power--as until recently. The general decay toward the end of the Hellenistic period also affected the way the Games were staged. In 50 B.C., the trustees of the Olympiads leased the Games to Antioch for a very high price. In 67 B.C., Emperor Nero came to Greece and ordered an immediate holding of the Games. He participated in the events and won all of them--of course. During the times of decadence, practically everything was allowed, including the use of various substances in order to increase the athletes' power. Sports then was relegated to a simple spectacle. Many may thus justify the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I for abolishing the Games in A.D. 393 by declaring them pagan and contrary to the Christian spirit and morals, and ordering the destruction of all relevant ancient sacred sites.
However, lasting institutions such as the Olympiads survived underground and, like the phoenix, they rose up again to a new life from their own ashes. Unfortunately so was the case of the so-called doping. Incidents of doping actually occurred before the revival of the ancient Greek Olympic spirit in modern times. The oldest case of a sort of doping happened in a swimming contest in Amsterdam in 1856. It was also then that occurred the first recorded death because of doping. The word "doping" comes from somewhere in Africa where certain substances were probably used by African healers or shamans. From Africa the word found its way into the continent of Europe and is used to describe the taking of substances stimulating nerves and muscles thereby creating the so-called "super-athletes."
The Kaffirs during religious ceremonies used a substance distilled from various herbs which produced a stimulating effect. In the modern Olympics, the first doping case was reported in the St. Louis Games. The Marathon race winner collapsed at the end due to an overdose of strychnine and cognac. The first use of amphetamines was reported in the Berlin Olympics (1936) and in the Rome (1960) Games, two athletes died from doping. Later, "super-athletes" used different kinds of anabolics. Thus the Olympic Games were revived in modern times but were also accompanied by some of the ancient good and bad habits and their consequences.
The Revival of the Olympiads
The traditional founder of the modern Olympiads is held to be the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, but others point to Father Didon of the School of Albert the Great at Arcueil, France. The latter invented the phrase, Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger) which were inscribed over the entrance of the Sydney Olympic Stadium. Both men admired classical civilization. Coubertin wished to instill the ancient sporting spirit and values and sought a center where young people from the world over could peacefully meet, associate and compete in sporting events. Against great odds, Coubertin, the Englishman Charles Herbert, the American William Sloane, and the Greek Dimitrios Vikelas held an international congress in Paris in 1894 which unanimously decided to revive the Olympic Games. Vikelas's proposal to establish an International Olympic Committee was adopted and Vikelas was elected its first president. He succeeded in moving forward the Olympiad's date to 1896 instead of 1900, and to hold it in Athens instead of Paris. The Olympic Games had returned to the country in which they were born.
Vikelas hastened to Athens in order to organize the First Olympiad. He had taken a great risk in attempting such an enterprise. The Greek government expressed gratitude for the honor and welcomed the offer in principle but refused to appropriate the funds. Greece was a small, poor country. Premier Charilaos Trikoupis had recently declared Greece's bankruptcy. At the same time, Hungary was exerting intense pressure the IOC to hold the Olympiad in Budapest to coincide with the millennial festivity of the Hungarian state. This, coupled with Greek reluctance, brought Coubertin to Athens in October 1894. Coubertin and Vikelas saw to it that Greece should not forfeit the honor of hosting the First Olympiad. The two, aided by the athletic notable John Fokianos, persuaded the Greek authorities and the public to play host to the Olympiad in 1896. There was no time to lose. Rich and poor Greeks inside Greece and in the diaspora were called upon to contribute for its success. A rich diaspora Greek, George Averof, assumed the construction of an all-marble stadium on the ruins of the old one. The stadium was built in record time, and substantial funds were collected from contributions by native and diaspora Greeks. A small city of barely over 100,000, Athens was in a frenzy beautifying and readying itself of the Olympiad.
Greece fulfilled the IOC's decision and the Olympiad was a great success. More than 300 athletes from 14 states participated in 43 events. The success surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic supporters. The modern Olympic Games had been established and became the greatest sporting competition with a promising future. The ancient Olympic ideal had been reborn. Following the ancient Greek custom, a street in the Bavarian capital, Munich, was named after the winner of the first modern Marathon race, the Greek Spyros Louis. Vikelas also commissioned the great poet Costis Palamas to write the Olympic Hymn whose music was composed by the Greek Spyros Samaras. The song was officially adopted by the IOC as the Olympic Hymn in Tokyo in 1958. A Greek-Australian choir sung the Hymn on the opening day in Sydney.
The 100th Anniversary and the Greek Disappointment
As the times and the Olympiads rolled, the Games grew to a sporting avalanche and cities since 1896 compete for the award to host the events. Many cities organized Olympiads which as in the past were connected with politics. One of the worst was that of Berlin (1936) in which Nazi Germany mixed sports with racism, but the American black Jesse Owens shredded Hitler's Aryan myth. Other Olympiads became significant in a political sense. In one of them, in Germany again (Munich 1972), several Israeli athletes were murdered by alleged Arab terrorists. In 1980 and 1984 political differences contributed to the Western boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games and correspondingly the Soviet Bloc's boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympiad. Significant in a political sense was also that of Sydney in which modernist Australians seized the opportunity to correct their mistreatment of the Aborigines. The Aborigine athlete Cathy Freeman accepted the responsibility to seal the reconciliation. Freeman's performance was extraordinary as after her victory she took her lap by waving the Australian and Aborigine flags tied in one.
As the 20th century drew to a close and the IOC prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Games, a now greater and richer claimed the award to host the 1996 Olympiad. Already in July 1976 Premier Constantine Karamanlis in a letter to the IOC president had proposed the idea that the Olympiads be held in Greece permanently. Karamanlis also proposed the same idea in 1980. He argued that the Olympic ideal had been corrupted by politics, commercialization, conceited showmanship, and advertising methods connected with invested economic interests, all of which have raised the cost of the Games to enormous heights, effectively prohibiting small countries from hosting the Olympics. It was time, he said, that the Games reverted to the ancient Olympic spirit. The IOC set up a committee to study Karamanlis's proposal, but the committee has been slow in considering the proposition. However, Karamanlis was optimistic that although his idea may take time to be realized, someday it would be done, he said. If Greece could not become the permanent venue of the Games, it could at least play host to the Olympics of 1996, the 100th anniversary of the modern Games.
Accordingly, at the 1990 Tokyo meeting of the IOC Athens competed with Atlanta, Toronto, Melbourne, Manchester and Belgrade for the award of the 1996 Olympiad. By the fourth round of balloting only Atlanta and Athens still competed head-to-head while the other four had been eliminated. In the fifth round, Atlanta won by 51 votes to Athens's 35. Atlanta had won the right to be the site of 1996 Summer Olympics. It was the third U.S. city to get the award after St. Louis in 1904 and Los Angeles in 1932 and 1984. The IOC had chosen "Atlanta's southern comfort over the sentimental bid for Athens." The fact that Atlanta was the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Atlanta's prominent promoter, the well-known black American Andrew Young, may have swayed most of the 16 African IOC members to vote for Atlanta. Those supporting Toronto finally cast their votes for Atlanta.
Thousands of Atlantans cheered and danced in the streets all night. It was the biggest day in Atlanta's history. Many said also that it was big money that brought the Olympics to Atlanta; after all, the head offices of Coca Cola and CNN were there. Indeed, money played a role in the whole affair but other factors, including geographic ones, also made IOC members choose Atlanta. The 1992 Summer Olympics would be held in Barcelona, Spain, and the 1994 Winter Olympics had been awarded to Lillehammer, Norway. IOC members thought it was perhaps too much to have three consecutive Olympics over a six-year period held in the same continent. Political reasons also may have made many IOC members opt for Atlanta. In 1990 there was a political conservative changeover in Greece after an eight-year Socialist rule and a year of governmental instability. In 1990 Greece was rocked by protests, demonstrations, and strikes--all of these may have affected the Greek bid negatively.
Nonetheless, Athenians were stunned by their loss. It seemed as if the entire country was paralyzed by disappointment. Greeks knew that they had a problem when the Greek Olympic Committee's chairman had angered many IOC members by declaring that, "Morally, the Games belong to Greece." Greeks, on the other hand, did not know or had forgotten that when IOC officials twice had visited Athens to examine the situation on the spot, they had to meet the Greek Olympic Committee's members in another place because the latter's offices were occupied by strikers. The keenest disappointment was felt in Athens where in the streets people expressed their anger and dismay. An Athens daily stated that Athens would have saved the Olympics from commercialization and returned the Games to the Olympic ideal (!). The Athens of 1990 was quite different from the Athens of 1894, but in some respects the situation was similar. Greece in 1896 was declared bankrupt, and in 1990, it was in near-bankruptcy. Athens's decaying infrastructure of roads, airports, and telecommunications had to be rebuilt and modernized for which some $3 billion had to be pumped into the projects. Greeks were "consoled" by being awarded the organization of the celebration of the 100th anniversary, which they did with considerable success. Although the Greeks did not play host to the 1996 Olympics, they did display an unprecedented athletic prowess in winning many medals in Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney where Greece ranked 17th on the medal list. Did all these medals herald a winning bid in the future? Perhaps so, as Greece was chosen to be the site of the Summer Olympics in 2004. The Sydney Olympics was "the greatest success ever" and had raised the stakes of Greece which promised to hold the "greatest and cleanest Olympiad." Could Greece keep its promise? The 2004 Olympiad may be a Golgotha--and a Resurrection for Greece.
The legend reads: "Boxing was not a sporting event in the 1896 Olympics. But this is was Premier Charilaos Trikoupis and opposition leader Theodoros Deliyannis were doing: exchanging punches in the political ring regarding the Olympic Games."
This caricature of 1896 is appropriate for the similar situation regarding the 2004 Olympics, as the ruling party, PASOK, clashed with the opposition in the current parliament, especially the New Democracy Party.
The Olympics Return to Greece, 2004
After 108 years, the modern Olympiad was to return to its birthplace in 2004 as the IOC decided in 1997 at Lausanne. Greeks jumped for joy at the news and promised to revive the Olympic ideal and to stage the "best Olympiad ever." Athens was to be spruced up to realize that vision. Huge amounts of money are to be spent to renovate museums, restore archeological sites, and build a new airport in Athens. City squares, neoclassical buildings and avenues must be remodeled, revamped or resurfaced. The Athens Olympics were touted by Greek officials as the beginning of a new era in the appreciation of the ancient Olympic spirit. Accordingly, together the with the athletic events, certain other plans have been incorporated into the overall program. Three innovations were added to the main athletic events: the Cultural Olympiad, the Youth Festival, and the International Olympic Truce Center. These were the winning points of Athens's bid to host the 2004 Olympiad, thus giving a "new value and dimension" to the Olympic spirit as it was in ancient Greece.
The Cultural Olympiad aims at fulfilling the classical ideal of a "healthy mind in a healthy body." The cultural events will extend from 2000 to 2004 and the famous film director Michael Cocoyannis was appointed to head, design, and supervise the performances. An international committee was to be set up to grant the cultural awards to persons or groups active in the enhancement of regional or world peace and the promotion of the Olympic spirit and movement. The Olympic Youth Festival will be a ten-day affair to be held some time prior to the Games schedule. Some 4,000 young athletes will be selected from all corners of the glove to be infused with the Olympic ideal by taking part in several events. The International Olympic Truce Center, inaugurated in July 2000, aims exactly at the ancient principle of suspending wars during the Games. The Truce Center is viewed as a unique tool by which sports and the Olympic ideals contribute to the cessation of conflicts and to the creation of a peaceful and better world. Accordingly, the Olympic flame from Olympia will arrive in Athens by traveling through Italy, Albania, FYROM, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Cyprus. These countries have all agreed to the proposal. The Olympic events will also be held in other parts of Greece.
Greece has thus greatly enlarged the scope of the Olympic Games. In addition to the 300 sporting events, and the Paralympics, several scores of other cultural and artistic performances will be staged. Knowing Greek realities and the way things get done, one wonders whether the Greek planners were conscious of the enormity of the undertaking and its cost. Therefore, in Greece and abroad knowledgeable people raised the question of whether Greece will be ready in 2004 to deliver what it promised. The Greek Committee which made the bid was headed by Mrs. Yanna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, wife of a Greek tycoon. The bid program cost several million U.S. dollars. The government and other factors decided to entrust the organization of the Olympics to a five-member steering committee. All expected that Mrs. Angelopoulos would head the committee, but this was not the case. Believing that the Games belonged to them, Greeks basked in the honor and glory of 2004 when a bolt out of the blue came to bring Greeks back to their senses and reality. IOC president Antonio Samaranch visited Greece in April 2000 to see how far the organization had come. Then the slam came. Samaranch flatly stated that the situation in Greece was the worst he had seen in 20 years as head of the IOC. He showed the Greeks the "yellow card" and warned that Greece was in danger of losing the Games unless they acted quickly and decisively.
Caught off guard by the Samaranch broadside, Greek officials, though admitting "some delays" (!) in the projects, defended the work done and reassured the IOC that Greece would be in line with the existing time schedule. The even reiterated that "the 2004 Games will be a landmark in the history of the Olympics." Samaranch's remarks blemished the international image of Greece and caused some incautious reactions by Greek officials. The sharp-tongued Minister of Culture at the time, Theodore Pangalos, cavalierly said that Greece would not allow itself to be influenced by the censure of Samaranch, and the government would not determine its work with spasmodic reflexes. "We got the message," he said, "and the IOC does not have to repeat it all the time." But this has been exactly the way the ruling party has worked for almost twenty years: improvising and working spasmodically and in a fragmentary fashion. Actually, Samaranch's faultfinding was exactly what was needed to prompt the organizers to work at a quicker pace. The IOC's vice-president and liaison of the IOC with Athens, Jacques Rogge, calmed things down by stating that no contingency plans existed for moving the Games elsewhere, but he clearly urged a revamping of the whole structure. Athens had claimed in 1997 that about 70 percent of the facilities for 2004 were ready and by 2004 everything would be in place. Since 1997, however, the work had stalled and many projects Greece had promised had been changed or forgotten. The IOC called upon Greece to appoint an Olympic cabinet minister, as Australia had done, to take charge of the organizing committee, but Greece rejected the proposal.
The remarks of Samaranch forced many changes in the Greek attitude. Heads started to roll and plans were changed or rescheduled. In May 2000, Mrs. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was actually begged to take over the troubled steering committee whose president had already qui in 1999. The IOC was probably instrumental in the new appointment. The Angelopoulos family as had close ties with Samaranch and other members of the IOC. Mrs. Angelopoulos is reported to have demanded wide-ranging powers, including the allocation of funds, which some cabinet ministers were not likely to grant. Mrs. Angelopoulos immediately reorganized the steering committee. This and the powers she demanded further sharpened the friction, infighting, and the hidden hostility amongst the parties involved. As Mrs. Angelopoulos tried to restore confidence in the Olympic effort, many experts doubted her and the committee's experience and abilities to handle the complexities of the contemporary Olympiads. But the committee's spokesman praised the qualities of its new members who knew "exactly what needs to be done." From the beginning, many problems cropped up and continued to increase as time went on, despite official assurances to the contrary. Reports leaked to the press that a "divorce" between Mrs. Angelopoulos and the cabinet was entirely predictable. Until February 2001, however, their cooperation went on smoothly enough.
Mrs. Angelopoulos said she could not perform miracles but she had brought about real changes and things would be on line by 2004 and the Olympiad would be a great success. Her statement came on the heels of fears and warnings by officials and commentators on the CBS and ABC networks as well as in American and other newspapers and magazines. Despite assurances by the U.S. ambassador in Greece, Nicholas Burns, to the contrary, Greeks generally believed this was an American anti-Greek campaign to blemish the image of Greece. Abroad, questions were raised whether Greece would be ready for the Olympics in 2004 and whether the USA should trust the protection of its athletes to the Greek authorities which for 25 years had not been able to arrest a single terrorist. Security is a key issue because several U.S. officials have been wounded or murdered by terrorist bullets. The USA has repeatedly accused Greece of being "disturbingly passive" in fighting terrorism.
As stated, the main concerns of Greece have been the issues of security and the construction of Olympic projects. We may recall here that foreign and Greek circles have repeatedly voiced doubts about Greece's ability to afford security for the Olympics and complete the projects on time. The U.S. has complained that for 27 years Greece had done nothing about the elusive 17 November (17N) alleged terrorist group. During these years, the 17N has killed 23 persons and wounded many others, among them several Americans. Under multinational pressure Greece reorganized, retrained and reequipped the police and adopted legislation to address the new conditions created by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Savvas Xiros, an alleged member of the 17N, was seriously wounded in a chance explosion of a bomb and subsequently made a torrent of confessions ultimately leading to the arrest of 19 other alleged members of the 17N. Their trial started on 3 March 2003 and was expected to last six months. Some of the defendants have accepted in toto the political responsibility of, or in part cooperation in, the group's activities. Several have denied any part in the 17N, saying that the charges were "a cheap construct of American and British secret agencies." In court, others have partly or completely retracted their pretrial testimonies, "based on confessions taken in an intensive care unit from people destroyed by psychotropic drugs and blackmail." A political debate ensued about the legality of the trial without jury and about whether the alleged violent acts of the 17N were political or criminal civilian acts.
The arrest and trial of the 17N group brought profound relief at home and abroad. Great praise was expressed to Greece especially by the U.S., the U.K., and Turkey, all of which mourned victims, as well as the IOC president, Jacques Rogge. The roundup of the 17N was a turning point for Greece. The country gained greater confidence. It could not breathe more easily and "turn its political further away from an obsession with Washington" and manage the Olympiad with greater assurance by dealing "sternly and effectively with terrorists of any stripe," homegrown or imported. Public Order Minister M. Chrisochoidis stated that nonetheless Greece remained vigilant because security remained Greece's top priority. Still questions remain including the reasons for the long inaction of Greece regarding terrorism and how popular the Marxist-Leninist ideology and denunciations of capitalism and imperialism of the 17N were among ordinary Greeks. The 17N manifestos appealed to many Greeks with a sense of victimhood, siege mentality, and widespread anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism. Despite the defendants' confessions, unfortunately, according to a recent opinion poll, about a quarter of the Greek public viewed the alleged 17N terrorists with sympathy and considered them as "social revolutionaries." Given the war in Iraq coming on the heels of the fighting in Afghanistan and the bombing of Yugoslavia, sympathy for the 17N and anti-Americanism may grow further. Several demonstrations have been held by extreme leftists in sympathy for the arrested 17N alleged members. Nevertheless, the Athens 2004 president, Mrs. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, stated that "in 2004 Greece will ready to host the world without threat and without fear." U.S. specialists recently visiting the new Athens airport were immensely impressed by the high level of its security arrangement and praised it as a model for other airports.
After delays, Greece finally awarded the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) the security contract for the Olympics. SAIC is a U.S. research and engineering company. It will build a security telecommunications and surveillance system at a cost of 250 million euros. SAIC build the special U.S. communications system following the September 11 terrorist attacks and provided security for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Despite all assures regarding security, on 4 February 2003 the State Department announced that the U.S. was planning a massive security operation to protect the 600 American athletes and 200 coaches and administrators traveling to Greece. Accordingly, for the 2004 Olympiad, the U.S. would deploy 150 special agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Congress was asked to provide $4.5 million for the unprecedented massive deployment of extra agents. This decision might likely offend Greek sensitivities and esteem and tend to increase Greek suspicions and animosity toward the U.S.
Another top priority was "to put to rest the widespread worry among outsiders that the country feel behind schedule in preparing for the Games and still teeters on the brink of disaster." The work of bulldozers, cranes, and jackhammers has, therefore, been dramatically intensified in a "final sprint" to the Olympics: carving new roads and expanding existing ones, refurbishing the city and reconfiguring the transport and communication structures of Athens and Attica, building a subway and streetcar connecting the Olympic venues and the new airport, and finishing the construction of all Olympic projects. Billboards have been set up all over Greece beating the message that Greece will be ready by 2004. Despite the showing of a "yellow card" and threats of a "red card" by the IOC, the situation by the end of 2001 was still appalling in many respects and levels. As stated earlier, Mrs. Yanna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was appointed president of Athens 2004 in order to shape things up and get thing ready by 2003. She stressed that "our heads are on the block" and that for Athens 2004 "the Olympic Games will be in 2003," because during that year thirty-nine test events would be held and the Olympic operational center had to be ready by August 2003. The London newspaper The Independent on Sunday likened Mrs. Angelopoulos to former premier Margaret Thatcher but with "more class and certainly more charm," adding that the former should stand on the top step of the podium if medals for diplomacy were handed out.
However, as late as March 2003 warnings were still coming in. The IOC's vice-president, Kevan Gosper, warned that "the quality of the Athens Games are in jeopardy unless preparations are accelerated." Earlier, IOC President Jacques Rogge had "roasted Greece for foot-dragging" in preparations for the Olympics and considered installing the IOC's own men in Athens 2004's senior posts. Harsher criticism unexpectedly came from the president of the International Basketball Association, a Greek, "because of the total lack of transparency of sponsors' contracts because major interests are involved," adding that the Greek taxpayers would bear the tremendous cost of the Games. Greek officials accused Mr. Gosper, and obliquely other critics, that he unsoundly sought to "undermine Greece's reputation." Greek sensitivities were injured by Gosper's witty jibe that "Athens runs the risk of being the distressful meat in the sandwich of the two Games [i.e., of Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008]." Earlier, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos had stressed that Greeks were working "20 and 22 hours a day" and Mrs. Angelopoulos buttressed the minister's argument with a similar sweeping assessment. Greek officials and most ordinary citizens considered the success of the Games as a top-priority "national issue." They generally talk about the Olympiad as "a transforming event, the pivot and catalyst for a new national image, modernity and prosperity." Venizelos said that the "Olympic operation is the most important and ambitious project for the modernization" of Greece. Mrs. Angelopoulos added that for Greece the Olympiad was "a unique chance to be reintroduced to the rest of the world." The public and private investments in the Olympic projects have added about a quarter to the growth rate of 3.8 percent of the GDP, which was double the average of that of the European Union's social product. Despite the EU's contributions of millions of dollars for reconstruction, many Greeks worried that Greece was overreaching itself financially. To clam down such worries, the government scaled back many of its initial plans to host the "Olympics on a human scale," as it was put. Nonetheless, the "benefits might be less than the costs if you add them in money terms and will do wonders for the self-confidence of a country that sorely needs it," a political analyst concluded.
The construction program was related to that of the accommodation services. Both the national and international press asked the question, "Where will the 1.4 million visitors stay" during the Olympics? The Greek officials were busy preparing initiatives to muster private homes to accommodate visitors and to arrange for a flotilla of luxury cruise ships, including the largest of them all, The Queen Mary II, for the accommodation of 14,000 VIPs, according to the daily Kathimerini. The program of alluring private home owners to rent their residences to 2004 visitors was bogged down by a government plan to impose a 10 percent prepaid tax on such rental income. After strong protests from the housing sector, the measure was withdrawn. Athens 2004 hopes to find some 3,000 residences for that purpose. As the program bogged down, an Athens daily cried: "Some 150,000 visitors will sleep in tents," and estimated that some 50,000 residences were necessary for this accommodation. No wonder that Mrs. Angelopoulos complained that she could never have a good night's sleep!
Despite its many problems, delays and setbacks, the construction of the Olympic projects had its silver lining. Digging around Attica where some events will be held, pieces of prehistory and history turned up wherever shovels and spades struck earth. Some 4,500 years-old homes were discovered at Marathon beach and a 2,500 years-old temple of Aphrodite was brought to light at Markopoulo. As an archeologist put it, "the modern and antiquity [come] together in a good combination." The Greeks with great pride would show the athletes and visitors these finds displayed near the sties of their discovery, where different sports events would be held. Sydney's clear atmosphere and trouble-free hosting of the 2000 Summer Games had been the great challenge for Athens, mired in polluted air, and endless blueprints and the nagging threat of the 17N terrorist group striking again. The archaeological finds would be part of an interestingly beautiful city and Olympiad, the organizers said. In August 2002, sailing was the first Olympic test event and Greece got very high marks for it.
The problem of volunteers was not yet solved by March 2003. In February 2002, Athens 2004 went on a global campaign to recruit the 60,000 volunteers needed for the Games. Athens felt confident that it would reach the target of 150,000 applicants from which to choose the 45,000 volunteers for the Olympiad and 15,000 for the Paralympics. They were to be trained so as to be informative about Olympic history and the sports event, as well as given instruction in first aid. The volunteers would offer their various services gratis in welcoming, assisting in security at events, transporting the athletes and officials, helping in administration and ticketing, as well as assisting in preparation of the Games from May to the closing day. In the Barcelona Games (1992), some 34,500 volunteers were deployed in Atlanta (1996) 60,000, and in Sydney (2000) 47,000. At the end of March 2003, Mrs. Angelopoulos announced that the number of applicants stood at 70,000, among them many Greek and foreign prominent personalities from different walks of society. The daily To Vima in December 2003 commented negatively on the issue of volunteerism with an article entitled "Volunteerism: Come ... let us improvise." The paper stated that no legal framework had been provided yet for this institution. "Greece may be against the wall in terms of time," but "then miracles occur and everything is in place and on time," as was the case in 1896. That was what Danis Oswald, head of the IOC's Coordinating Committee, said during his last inspection tour of Athens. As he visited the Greek Archbishop before he met any Greek government and Olympic officials, the daily Kathimerini wittily wondered "who could bring miracles to whom?"
Greek Olympic officials also pledged to hold the "cleanest Olympiad ever." Athens 2004 is to have the first test of a new regime against doping to be applied in sports events. A new Anti-Doping Code (ADC) was proposed in Denmark by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The president of WADA, Dick Pound, a Canadian lawyer, said that this war on doping ought to be won "not by generals but by sports officials." A list of prohibited drugs was proposed along with new blood tests to be taken at any time and punishment of the guilty by up to two years exclusion from all sports events. Many warn, however, that the "war may never be fully won" because it was "a Herculean task to lay down ground rules with flexibility and bite." Cycling and soccer federations and American professional sports leagues did not like the new regime and its two-year exclusion for the guilty. The new IOC president, Jacques Rogge, an MD himself, supported the new anti-doping campaign. He hoped that it was an opportunity for the IOC to regain "a higher moral ground" after the Olympics corruption scandals in the 1990s. Rogge was quite a different man from his predecessor Samaranch and with a different agenda. In addition to emphasizing the anti-doping struggle, Rogge had been trying to keep the numbers of athletes and events to manageable levels.
As of the fall of 2002, Greece had gone international for the Olympics in order to attract visitors and spectators. In addition to refurbishing and modernizing the country, Greece invited foreign VIPs and prominent journalists to visit the "new Athens" and the Olympic venues. A Salvador Dali exhibit was inaugurated by Spain's Queen Sophia, a Greek princess and sister of the ex-king Constantine II of Greece, and Greek officials traveled extensively throughout the globe promoting the Olympics, its spirit and values. Greece and China, host of the 2008 Olympics, agreed to cooperate closely on matters regarding the Olympics as well as other issues. China made Greece its "chosen tourist destination" and Greece looked forward to a profitable, vast Chinese market--and the Japanese market as well--for the Greek tourist industry. Along with the Games, Greece also promoted the idea and practice of the Olympic Truce as well as the Greek Cultural Olympiad. The Truce had already made much headway. Many countries pledged to promote and practice it. The Central Committee of the European Churches as well as the World Council of Churches pledged their strong support for the global implementation of the ideas of peace and understanding. The Cultural Olympiad, programmed to last four years and proclaimed to be "the civilization of civilizations," had not thus far attracted much national or international attention and remained a "series of localized festivities."
To attract visitors, Athens 2004 offered tickets to the Olympic events at much lower prices than those of the Sydney and Salt Lake City Games. Whereas the tickets for the choice opening and closing ceremonies would cost up to 750 euros, the average price for the other events would be some 30 euros. There would be no free tickets. Even the President of the Republic would have to pay for his own ticket! However, there was a barrier for the Games: the Schengen Treaty. The IOC's charter on Olympic accommodation came into conflict with the Schengen Treaty's travel requirements. Defections of athletes and others are not rare during the Olympics. The whole Schengen system ought to have a "near-zero margin of error" to prevent the wrong individuals or groups from entering sensitive areas. Greek organizers were working on a compromise.
As Greece makes its mad dash toward the finish line, we might conclude that this was a unique opportunity for Greece to modernize itself. Fortunately, the unalterable deadline imposed an iron discipline on the Greeks that would have a domino-effect on a lot of things. Greeks had to shape up or give up. A political analyst put it thusly: "If the Olympics go well and Athens appears beautiful, the Games will do wonders for the country and its people." Rings, torches and flames are symbols that excite people's feelings and make the Olympics go round. A streamlined Olympic torch was designed by a Greek artist. The torch will hold the "sacred flame" which will be lit in ancient Olympia, relayed by runners across the continents and arrive at the Athens Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony. Greece promised to hold not only the best and cleanest Olympiad, but would also hold the world's longest and most roundabout flame relay from Olympia to the Olympic Stadium. That was the best tourist promotion for Greece, the birthplace of Western civilization and the Olympic Games.