The True Olympic Legacy of Athens: Refuting the Mythology

tarting with the period prior to the 2004 Games in Athens, media outlets across the world have made a habit of putting Greece down, doubting its ability to host the games prior to 2004, and since 2004, questioning whether the Games should have been held in Athens.
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It has become an Olympic tradition, occurring with regularity every four years and reflected upon frequently in the interim period between the Games. I'm not talking about the Olympic torch lighting ceremony or the opening ceremony. What I am referring to is Greece-bashing. Starting with the period prior to the 2004 Games in Athens, media outlets across the world have made a habit of putting Greece down, doubting its ability to host the games prior to 2004, and since 2004, questioning whether the Games should have been held in Athens. Paralleling the Games, these accounts of Greece's supposed incompetence have peaked every four years.

Soon after Athens was awarded the Olympics, the world's media began to question Greece's ability to host the Games. A 60 Minutes report in 2002 harshly questioned the safety of the Games being held in Athens, perhaps forgetting the deadly bombing that occurred at the Atlanta Games. This was followed by the attempts of several journalists to break in to Olympic venues, hoping to prove that the inept Greeks were incapable of ensuring security. It was even said that the only place worse than Athens to hold the Olympics was Baghdad, while some news outlets suggested the Games be stripped from Greece.

In 2004, the Games were held in Athens with tremendous success, and some media outlets, including the New York Times, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, and the San Jose Mercury News, which had previously lambasted Greece, published half-hearted "apologies." The damage, however, was done: security fears scared off many from attending the Games. Approximately 3.5 million tickets were sold, compared to 6.7 million in Sydney. Indeed, tourist arrivals in 2004 declined compared to 2003, from 13.9 million to 13.3.

Four years later, Beijing hosted the Games, and some journalists revisited the supposed failures of Athens. A now-vanished Yahoo! Sports article claimed that China had proven how to host the Games and plan for the post-Olympics era, while Athens -- where 21 out of 22 Olympic venues were purportedly abandoned -- proved how not to do it. These claims are ironic in light of recent reports that many of Beijing's venues are underutilized. Britain's Daily Mail repeated these claims, while Slate also discussed Athens' post-Olympic failures.

Like clockwork, these same claims have reappeared again during the London Games. NBC's Bob Costas, during the opening ceremony, questioned whether Athens should have hosted the Games, while the Associated Press, in an article reprinted by and the Huffington Post, claimed that the Athens Olympic venues are decaying. This piece was accompanied by undated photos displaying supposedly dilapidated facilities -- some taken from a suspiciously great distance or odd angles, while one showed a padlocked entrance to one venue, as if that single photo of one gate at one facility proves that the venue is unused. The writer of this piece further connected the cost of the Games with Greece's financial woes, without any evidence to back up these assertions. Bloomberg Businessweek, Time, and The Guardian have followed suit, as did The Wall Street Journal in 2010.

Greece-bashing, of course, is not new. The financial crisis in Greece has led to a deluge of articles lambasting the "lazy" and "corrupt" Greeks, whose "national pastime" is tax-dodging. Such rhetoric, however, cannot whitewash the truth. And the truth is that most of the Athens Olympic facilities are in use.

The Olympic Stadium complex is fully operational, with the main stadium serving as the home of the Panathinaikos and AEK football clubs, plus concerts and athletic events, including the 2007 Champions League final. The Olympic basketball stadium is the home court for Panathinaikos and held the Euroleague Final Four in 2007 and Olympic basketball qualifying tournament in 2008. The velodrome, aquatic center, and tennis center are all fully in use. The Peace and Friendship Stadium houses the Olympiacos basketball club and indoor track meets, while Karaiskaki Stadium is home to the Olympiacos football club. The International Broadcast Centre has been converted to the Golden Hall shopping mall, the Main Press Centre now houses the Greek Ministry of Health, the Goudi Olympic Hall is now the Badminton Theater, while the Faliron Sports Pavilion has become a convention and event center. The Hellinikon basketball arena housed the AEK basketball club, and hosts the Greek basketball cup and numerous concerts, while the baseball stadium has been converted to a football field used by Ethnikos. The Ano Liosia Olympic Hall has held sporting events including the Greek Ice Hockey championships, and will become the Hellenic Academy of Culture and Hellenic Digital Archive. The Sailing Centre has become a marina, while the Weightlifting Centre is now utilized by the University of Piraeus as an academic facility. The shooting range has become a police training facility, the Rowing and Canoeing Center is part of Schinias National Park and hosted the 2008 European Rowing Championships, and the Boxing Hall has remained in use for boxing. Outside of Athens, the Pancretan Stadium is the home pitch of Ergotelis and has also hosted the Greek national football team. Kaftanzogleio Stadium houses the Iraklis football club, the Panthessaliko Stadium houses the Olympiacos Volou football team, and the Pampeloponissiako Stadium is home to the Panahaiki football club and several track meets. Many of these venues were also utilized during the Special Olympics, held in Athens last year.

This is in addition to the non-sports infrastructure which was completed for the Games and which benefits the city to this day, including Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, the Athens Metro, the tram, and the Attiki Odos highway, among others.

While the cost of the Games -- an estimated 8.954 billion Euros -- is significant, it represents only approximately four percent of Greece's total debt. When considering that much of this money was spent on infrastructure which is still utilized, and that the favorable image resulting from the Games contributed to sharply increased tourist arrivals in subsequent years -- reaching a record 16.165 million in 2007 -- then it is clear that the positive impact of the Games for Greece far outweighs the negative.

It is unfortunate, though, that many journalists allow sensationalism and lies to get in the way of facts and reality, choosing to kick a country when it's down instead of reporting the truth.

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