The “legacy” that the 2004 Olympic Games will leave for the greater Athens area, and, in fact, all of Greece, has been a lofty catch-phrase used repeatedly by Athens organizers, the government, as well as the International Olympic Committee in the years after the Greek capital was awarded the right to host next year’s Summer Olympics. Nowhere is the concept of a “lasting legacy” more evident, however, than in the accelerated works and landscaping now underway – amid extremely tight “August 2004 deadlines” – along the extended Athens coastal strip, a stretch of land south and southeast of downtown Athens well-known before the 1940s as the seaside playground for the capital’s residents, an Athenian version of 1920s-era Coney Island, Atlantic City or even Brighton.
The tract of beachfront properties that once hosted restaurants, piers, pedestrian-ways and umbrella-lined beaches was transformed for the worse in the post-war era by heaps of discarded construction materials and even discarded rubbish, the byproducts of greater Athens’ extensive and often haphazard urbanization over the last 50 or so years. A lack of any comprehensive development plan left the areas mostly unexploited in the decades that followed, save for the 1960s-era horse track at the Faliro Delta and a few marinas.
Dozens of hectares of abandoned or misused state-owned seaside land on the main coastal thoroughfare between the port of Piraeus and Athens’ more upscale southeastern coastal districts were, of course, a resource that the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Organizing Committee (ATHOC) could not afford to overlook. As a result, several venues along the coastal strip –extending from the 1980s-era Peace and Friendship Stadium (volleyball finals) and the adjacent Karaiskaki Stadium (soccer finals) all the way to the former Athens airport at the Helliniko district – were planned.
Karaiskaki, an early 1970s-era venue, is currently being demolished and rebuilt, whereas several new facilities are being built at the Helliniko Olympic Complex to host softball, baseball, field hockey, the basketball preliminaries, the handball finals, fencing and even the canoe/kayak slalom. Both Karaiskaki and the Helliniko complex are on the tightest possible deadlines, with the IOC’s Coordinating Committee for the 2004 Games having repeatedly voiced concerns about completion dates, although both ATHOC and the Greek government – which is responsible for much of the construction – have, in turn, guaranteed that the state-of-the-art venues and surrounding areas will be delivered on time.
Sandwiched between the Peace and Friendship Stadium and the Helliniko are the Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre (test event between Aug. 12-17, 2003) and the Olympic Sports Centre (handball prelims and tae kwon do), whereas the renovated Agios Kosmas park and sports complex – across from the old Athens airport – will host the sailing competition.
Falling under the jurisdiction of the town planning and public works ministry, the unprecedented – by local standards – urban renovation plan that envisions public parklands, water sports facilities and an all-round recreational coastal strip from Faliro to Helliniko; an ambitious project that ATHOC says will be greater in scope than similar and highly praised endeavors in Barcelona and Sydney. Among others, a 50-meter esplanade connecting the Faliro Delta (where the soon-to-be-moved horse track stands) with a small marina and the Poseidonos intersection is also foreseen.
In terms of mass transportations for the newly renovated coastal strip, a new Y-shaped tram network (currently being built) will connect downtown Athens with both the Faliro district at the Peace and Friendship site, and the Helliniko complex further to the southeast.
The first phase is scheduled for completion in early 2004, with the second phase (anti-flooding works, waste-treatment plants, removal of pre-fabricated Olympic venues and more green spaces) set for completion after the Olympics Games – all in all, a significant post-Olympics “legacy” for the congested greater Athens area.
ATHOC opens bureaus in three Greek cities
Athens 2004 Games Organizing Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki led an ATHOC delegation late this week on a visit to the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, one of four “Olympic cities,” besides Athens, that will host soccer preliminaries for next year’s Summer Games. The ATHOC president also inaugurated an “Olympic bureau” in the city, as she first toured a Thessaloniki-area military officers’ academy. While there, she noted that applications by would-be volunteers for the 2004 Games have now surpassed the 82,000-mark and that a selection process is currently proceeding without delay.
Visiting Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos also attended the bureau’s opening by the ATHOC chief, along with local government leaders.
Earlier in the week, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki inaugurated similar bureaus in the central Greek cities of Volos and Larissa. The port city of Volos, in fact, is one of four “Olympic cities,” along with Thessaloniki, Patras and Irakleio, which will host the 2004 Olympic soccer competition. The semifinals and final will be held at Athens’ Karaiskaki Stadium.
Visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham this week signed a high-profile proclamation in support of the “Olympic Truce,” in the presence of his Greek counterpart George Papandreou. The top Canadian diplomat praised efforts for reviving that idea and stressed that the Olympic Games were not just about sports, they also were about “putting the weapons down” for the duration of the Games.
ATHOC executives last week briefed educators and students at the University of Athens on the Volunteers Program, the sport events and the organization of the 2004 Paralympics Games, at a conference held in cooperation with the University. An ATHOC official said volunteer applications had reached 82,049, while interviews had been conducted with approximately 10,000 candidates thus far.
More than 180 representatives of news and photo agencies, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the organizing committees of upcoming Olympic Games are taking part in the 3rd World Informational Press Meeting that opened yesterday in the seaside resort of Kavouri, southeast of Athens. During the four-day sessions, delegates will discuss such topics as working conditions for print-media professionals and photographers vis-ΰ-vis the main press center for the 2004 Olympics as well as press centers at individual venues, accreditation, accommodations, transportation and press-related IT systems
Delays plague all-important home-leasing program
Two consortia selected to manage an ambitious Olympic-residence leasing program for visitors to the 2004 Athens Olympics sounded alarm bells this week, as a presidential decree outlining the program’s specifications and conditions apparently remains in the air.
The delay has also reportedly stalled the signing of a final agreement between the two consortia, led by Athens bourse-listed private banking groups Eurobank and Alpha, respectively, and the Athens 2004 Games Organizing Committee (ATHOC). Although the signing of the home-leasing agreement is a mostly symbolic act, the ongoing delay may also signal a deeper crisis or even an eventual withdrawal by the two parties, sources said here.
Under terms of the plan, the two groups are to evaluate, select and manage private residences leased to visitors prior to and during the hosting of the Athens Olympics – in July and August 2004.
Representatives of the two consortia pointed directly to “foot-dragging” by the development ministry, whose portfolio includes tourism-related policy and regulatory authority.
Additionally, the two private concerns said a June 30, 2003 deadline for homeowners to submit necessary documentation is “unreasonable,” while warning of “excessive bureaucracy” in the envisioned procedure for leasing private residences.
Meanwhile, the association representing property owners also voiced its opposition to certain provisions in the proposed agreement; namely, the exclusion of residences built before 1981, as well as residences described as “studio suites.” The property owners’ association (POMIDA) also cited excessive “red tape” due to the need for eight separate documents for leasing each residence, and stressed that inspections of prospective “2004 residences” should be performed by officials from the consortia themselves and not by the state-run Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT).
The Olympic home-leasing program aims to dramatically increase lodging available for the 2004 Olympic Games, in light of an expected shortage in accommodations during the competitions. Because of the shortage, Athens organizers have even booked 10 luxury cruise ships to host national Olympic committee delegations during the Games.
Healthy, delicious Grecian cuisine on the menu for 2004 Games
ATHOC’s Food Services Director Makis Fokas is this week’s guest writer for “Towards 2004,” where he comments on the attention-grabbing culinary aspects of preparations for next year’s Summer Olympics.
“The Olympics Committee Olympic Games (OCOG) Food Service Directorate is responsible for providing approximately 12 million meals to athletes, escorts, the Olympic and Paralympic family, employees, judges, mass media professionals, sponsors and spectators at all the Olympic sport and non-sport facilities. This is obviously an intricate task given the volume and vastness of the services to be provided.
“On a daily basis, the three restaurants of the Olympic Village will provide 50,000 meals based on 2,000 recipes, and approximately 100 tons of food will be consumed. A staff of 2,000 to 2,500 will be employed in the production and distribution of meals, including 250 chefs and an equal number of assistants, with the remainder of the workforce covering a large range of food-service jobs, including waiters, cleaning staff, storekeepers and even dieticians.
“Food safety is a key priority. Accordingly, the Food Service Directorate maintains constant contact with state agencies and the Olympic Games Security Directorate.
“The planning and organization of our mission will be assigned to expert food service companies to be selected through international tenders. We have already selected our first contractor, Aradasko S.A., which will be responsible for the Olympic and the Paralympic Village. The tenders for contracting food services are currently under review prior to publication, and it is estimated that the selection process will be completed by year’s end.
“The Food Service Directorate is committed to providing nutritious Greek food ‘with a smile,’ the focus on a healthy diet guaranteed by locally produced products and a Grecian-Mediterranean cuisine combined with top-quality service, and always with consideration to religious, national or dietary preferences that our guests from some 200 countries may have,” he stressed.