A Few Clouds
68°FA Few CloudsFull Forecast

Athens Olympics leave mixed legacy 10 years later

Published: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 12:08 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
The abandoned beach volleyball Olympic venue in Neo Faliro, southern Athens. As Greece groans under a cruel depression, forecast to end this year, the 10-year anniversary once again raises the question of whether the Athens Games were too costly an undertaking for a weak economy.
Caption
(AP photo)
Aworker fixes a light at Agora in the Olympic complex as the Olympic Velodrome is seen in the background in northern Athens. The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the countryís subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008.
Caption
(AP photo)
The remains of a fountain decorated with the Olympic rings and graffiti-defaced marble blocks dedicated to Greek Olympic medal winners are seen at the Olympic village in northern Athens.
Caption
(AP photo)
A man walks on a pedestrian's bridge near the Olympic stadium in northern Athens. In Greece, few of the sporting venues, mostly purpose-built permanent structures, have seen regular post-Olympic use.
Caption
(AP photo)
The abandoned canoe/kayak venue at the former Helliniko Olympic complex in southern Athens. The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the countryís subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008.
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
This Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 photo shows the International Olympic Committee Membersí Park is where visiting IOC officials were led to plant an olive sapling that would bear their name for posterity in Athens. In a forgotten corner of a hapless park, what looks like a crumbling military memorial provides perhaps the oddest reminder that, exactly 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics. As Greece groans under a cruel depression, forecast to end this year, the 10-year anniversary once again raises the question of whether the Athens Games were too costly an undertaking for a weak economy. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 photo the abandoned softball venue is seen at the former Helliniko Olympic complex in southern Athens. ěWe spent a lot of money for some projects (that) are shut and rotting,î said said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. ěThere were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million (euros) and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.î (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photo, the abandoned beach volleyball Olympic venue is seen behind a broken window in Neo Faliro, southern Athens. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame sky-high unemployment, slashed incomes and the violent overhaul of Greeceís economy on the 17-day Games, most experts lament the post-Olympic era as a decade of lost opportunities. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 photo, an employee waters the grass of an auxiliary stadium as an athlete runs in front of the Olympic stadium in northern Athens. As Greece groans under a cruel depression, forecast to end this year, the 10-year anniversary once again raises the question of whether the Athens Games were too costly an undertaking for a weak economy. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photo, with the closed Olympic Weightlifting venue in the background, an amateur soccer player practices as in Nikaia, western Athens. The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the countryís subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
This Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 photo shows graffiti-defaced a marble block with the Olympic Rings at the Olympic village in northern Athens. The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the countryís subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(AP photo)
Tourists visit Panathenaic stadium in Athens. The old Olympic Stadium of Athens, a marble reconstruction of the cityís ancient stadium built for the first modern Olympics held in Athens is open to ticket-paying visitors who can also visit a small Olympic museum on the site.
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 photo the Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool and Olympic Velodrome of the Olympic Complex are seen in northern Athens. In their haste to meet implacable construction deadlines, government officials didnít even secure proper planning permits for several venues, including the elegant crown on the main Olympic Stadium, a steel canopy by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 photo a commuter stands on the platform of the Syntagma Metro station in central Athens. A brand-new subway, airport and other vital civic infrastructure that significantly improved daily life in a city of 4 million, together with a pile of crepitating sports venues, were built in a mad rush to meet deadlines, with little thought for post-Olympic use. As Greece groans under a cruel depression, forecast to end this year, the 10-year anniversary once again raises the question of whether the Athens Games were too costly an undertaking for a weak economy. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
In this Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 photo, commuters use the Syntagma Metro station in central Athens. A brand-new subway, airport and other vital civic infrastructure that significantly improved daily life in a city of 4 million, together with a pile of crepitating sports venues, were built in a mad rush to meet deadlines, with little thought for post-Olympic use. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(Thanassis Stavrakis)
This Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 photo shows a graffiti-defaced a marble block dedicated to Greek Olympic medal winners at the Olympic village in northern Athens. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame sky-high unemployment, slashed incomes and the violent overhaul of Greeceís economy on the 17-day Games, most experts lament the post-Olympic era as a decade of lost opportunities. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Caption
(AP photo)
The abandoned baseball venue is seen at the former Helliniko Olympic complex in southern Athens. Andrew Zimbalist, a U.S. economist who studies the financial impact of major sporting events, said past experience shows that hosting the Olympics does not generally promote economic development.

ATHENS, Greece – In an obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics. The crumbling miniature theater is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero, labor” – and it is where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity.

Once a symbol of pomp, the marble theater is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines – with little thought for post-Olympic use.

As Greece groans under a cruel economic depression, questions linger of whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame the meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities – including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture. It’s a lesson to which Brazil may pay heed, as it races to complete projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t take advantage of this dynamic that we got in 2004,” said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, a Greek sporting hero turned Socialist member of Parliament. “We simply made the biggest mistake in our history: We switched off, locked up the stadiums, let them fall to pieces, and everything finished there.”

“We spent a lot of money for some projects [that] are shut and rotting,” said Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. “There were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million [euros] and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.”

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008. Former organizing committee chief Gianna Angelopoulos has commissioned the first independent survey of the Olympics’ overall economic effect. It will aim to weigh Olympic overspend and waste against a possible boost to the crucial tourism industry – arrivals have almost doubled since 2004, from 11.7 to 20.1 million – foreign investment and employment.

“The Olympics were very important in increasing the brand awareness ... of Greece,” said economist Theodore Krintas, managing director of Attica Wealth Management. “But we did very, very limited things on a follow-up basis.”

Andrew Zimbalist, a U.S. economist who studies the financial impact of major sporting events, said past experience shows that hosting the Olympics does not generally promote economic development: “At the end of the day, the main benefit to be had seems to be a feel-good experience that the people in the host city or the host country have,” said Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College. “But that’s a fleeting experience, not something that endures.

“Why couldn’t Athens have simply invested ... in development and transportation and communications and infrastructure, and not hosted the Olympics?”

The cost of hosting the Olympics and ensuring a city is not left with white elephants is a key issue facing the International Olympic Committee and new president Thomas Bach. Scared off by the record $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, several Western European cities declining to bid or dropped out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games.

Reducing the cost and focusing on long-term sustainability is part of Bach’s “Olympic Agenda 2020,” a package of reforms that will be voted on at a special meeting in Monaco in December.

In Greece, few of the sporting venues – mostly purpose-built permanent structures – have seen regular post-Olympic use. The badminton venue is a successful concert hall, but the empty table-tennis and gymnastics stadium is up for sale, and the beach volleyball center has been rarely used and was recently looted.

Most venues are padlocked.

The seaside site of Athens’ old airport hosted half a dozen venues. Politicians have dithered for a decade over how to use the sprawling plot – meaning facilities have simply been left to rot. Lengths of large tubing lie near abandoned runways. Decommissioned jumbo jets sit near where planners once dreamed of building a water amusement park. This year, private investors won a tender to develop the entire area into a residential, commercial, hotel and leisure center, in a 7 billion-euro investment.

Greek Olympic Committee head Spyros Capralos, a senior member of the 2004 organizing committee, said the state of the sporting venues “puts our country to shame.” The former swimming champion and two-time Olympic water polo competitor blames bureaucracy and lack of foresight.

“Nobody was thinking what would happen the next day,” he said. “Many of the sports facilities were constructed just to be constructed ... and nobody thought that they required a lot of money for maintenance after the Olympic Games.”

In their haste to meet implacable construction deadlines, government officials didn’t even secure proper planning permits for several venues, including the elegant crown on the main Olympic Stadium – a steel canopy by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Greece’s sports ministry says it has finally rectified the permits oversight, which until now hindered necessary repairs and maintenance, and funding has been found to conserve the roof.

Overall, Capralos insisted, the Games were a boost for Greece, mainly due to non-sports infrastructure pegged to the Games that otherwise might never have materialized.

“It saddens me that public opinion has come to believe the Athens Olympic Games were not successful,” he said. “They were very much so, both from the sports aspect and through projects that gave life to Athens – tourism has increased, there is a modern airport, roads, the metro, phones work properly and when it’s very hot the power system doesn’t collapse.”

Capralos believes the legacy of the stadiums can still be salvaged.

“Simply, someone must do whatever is needed for the venues to be taken over by the private sector – because I don’t think the state can be a very good entrepreneur or venue manager.”

Previous Page|1|2|3|Next Page

Get breaking and town-specific news sent to your phone. Sign up for text alerts from the Northwest Herald.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Reader Poll

Are you OK with schools rather than law enforcement dealing with minor drugs and alcohol infractions by students?
Yes
No
No opinion