Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Cost of Glory

The first modern Olympics took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896. It was an attempt to restore the legacy of amateur sports and competition given to the world by the Greeks. Only about 300 hundred athletes competed, and the competition lasted for only ten days involving only 13 countries. Athletes that placed first received a crown of olive leaves and a sliver medal; second place athletes received a bronze medal, and nothing was given to third place finishers. Greece walked away with 47 medals, an amazing feat at the time. Today, after two great world wars, the rise and fall of communism, regional and ethnic wars that span the globe, the incredible benefits and challenges of globalization, and the new threat of terrorism, Athens closes the 28th Olympics with 16 medals and a new world.

While others countries walk away from Greece feeling content with their athletes’ performances, Greeks are left to pick up the pieces from an event that will certainly burden their futures. From the jump, difficulties with the construction of venues, coordination of transportation, and, more importantly, the cost of security confronted the Greeks. Security concerns in a post 9/11 world led to abysmal ticket sales, and, as a consequence, poor revenue generation for the city of Athens, and Greece overall.

Not nearly enough restaurants, night clubs, hotels, souvenir shops, and Olympic Venues where filled, as they should have been. People were just fearful of the security situation, despite the fact that Athens poured six times more money into security than Salt Lake did the Olympics prior. In a country of only 11 million people, Greece is on the hook for some 9 billion(US) dollars. This inevitably means higher taxes to the citizens for a long time into the future; generations of Greeks will feel the legacy of these Olympics.

In my mind, the Olympics are, and have been, slowly becoming irrelevant. For the countries that can afford to field a wide array of athletes, they perform nearly uncontested. There are, however, rare moments of glory: when competitors from countries that can’t even afford to send coaches walk away with gold. But generally, as the Papacy is to Roman Catholism, the IOC seems to be the only true winner of the Olympics. A bloated, bureaucratic behemoth, the IOC has turned into a slothful hegemony that searches for the next foolish country it plans to beggar. As per the security threats at Athens, there were some:

Ron Bensimhon of Montreal, Canada, jumped off the 3-meter springboard at the diving venue Aug. 16 wearing a tutu over tights with blue polka dots. His motive remained unclear, but a judge sentenced him to five months in prison for interrupting the games.
He remained free pending an appeal and promised not to do it again.
And on Sunday, a man in a red kilt and green vest grabbed the marathon leader, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil, and pushed him into the crowd. Police tackled the intruder and a visibly shaken de Lima resumed the race. He later dropped back to win the bronze medal.
``The people from security weren't expecting anything like this,'' de Lima said. ``I can't say anything more than it was a great, big suprise.''

No comments: