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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 8 April, 2020

Here's what these Athens Olympics stadiums look like, 10 years later

Faster, higher, stronger, rustier…

Image: AP/Press Association Images

A DECADE SINCE Athens hosted the Olympics, several stadiums hastily built just for the 2004 games have been left abandoned.

Now, they serve as a reminder of the mixed economic legacy of an event that is thought to have cost Greece €8.5 billion.

The games brought the Greek capital a new subway system, an airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in Athens.

But the spectre of abandoned, grass-covered venues underlines claims that the entire project was unrealistically ambitious, and has done more harm than good to the Greek economy.

Greece Athens Olympics 10 Years After Source: AP/Press Association Images

“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.

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at €8.5 billion, double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent €320 billion debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Greece Athens Olympics 10 Years After The abandoned canoe/kayak venue at the former Helliniko Olympic complex Source: AP/Press Association Images

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.
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?

Greece Athens Olympics 10 Years After The Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool and Olympic Velodrome Source: AP/Press Association Images

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.

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.

Greece Athens Olympics 10 Years After The abandoned softball venue at the former Helliniko Olympic complex Source: AP/Press Association Images

“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.”

Capralos, however, is among those who insist 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.
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. 

Includes reporting from Associated Press.

Read: Greece could get more cash after Troika agree next step in bailout programme>

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Dan MacGuill

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