Greek Women Lead Olympics to Success

Article excerpt

While ancient history was the buzzword of the Olympic Games' return to their birthplace, history was also made in a very modern way: these were the first Olympics with women in the key leadership roles, including the first-ever woman head of a national Olympic organizing committee and the first woman mayor of an Olympic city.

Having women fill these roles is remarkable in itself, say Greeks, but even more so given that this is a European nation without a strong tradition of feminism or gender equity. Though Greece was the birthplace of democracy, Greek women weren't able to vote until 1952. The practice of obligatory dowries wasn't outlawed until 1983. Today, there are only 39 women in Greece's 300-member Parliament, and Greece routinely ranks at the bottom of female representation in government, trade unions, and political parties among the 25 nations of the European Union.

But the success of the Games could be a catalyst for change here.

"Greek society is still very patriarchal and unequal. I think the image of seeing these women in power, the symbol, will be a very important thing for Greeks. This is an indication that we'll see more women in public office. It will get a younger generation used to the idea of women in powerful posts," says Maria Stratigaki, a sociologist at Athens' Panteion University.

Analysts say it's hard to overestimate the political and psychological effect of the successful Olympics to the Greeks, especially after Athens' much maligned preparations. The successful completion of the most high-profile and expensive endeavor in the country's recent history has given Greece a desperately needed surge of confidence, a moment on the world stage that showed the transformation of a poor developing country into a competent modern European state. Experts say that any public figure associated with these Games would be lionized; that they were women in a male- dominated culture may well go far towards changing attitudes here.

Of the women leaders, the most prominent is Gianna Angelopoulos- Daskalaki, who headed the Athens Olympic Committee. Known simply as "Gianna" to most Greeks, she cuts a colorful and imposing figure - at once revered, hated, admired, and satirized. She is credited with getting the mired Olympic Games off the ground, but also with using a ruthless approach to do so, which earned her the sobriquet "Iron Lady." But she injected more glamour into the role than the original Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Ms. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki seldom appeared without flashy, form-fitting designer suits, diamonds, spike heels, and Cuban cigars.

Her Olympic legacy began in 1997, when the former lawyer and member of Parliament headed Athens' successful Olympic bid, redeeming Greece from its humiliating failure to get the centennial 1996 Games. …