01 May, 2016

The ruins of Athens

This is not the first time I plagiarise the title of a book I like. In the present case my source of inspiration is the fabulous work of two french photographers Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre on what remains of Detroit's past glory. The Ruins of Detroit is a book I recommend to all photography lovers (and, while we are at it, their second book, Gunkanjima, is of the same high standard).

I am currently spending a few days of vacations in Greece, in the Athens area, and I happened to pass by some athletic installations that I knew very well from my competitive swimmer's past. I am talking here about the three swimming pool complex near the old airport of Athens.I was shocked to find out that all three of them have now been decommissioned with the signs of their deterioration visible even to a non specialist. 

That got me thinking about all the sports venues but especially for the 2004 olympic ones and, not being much of a photograph myself, I embarked upon a google search of recent testimonies of their fate.

The present post is not focusing on Athletics. In fact the Olympic Stadium which served for the Track and Field events is one of the rare that were spared. It is regularly used for football matches and thus it is rather well preserved. The same is true for the Panathenaic  stadium (the Καλλιμάρμαρο, the beautiful marble one, as it is commonly referred to in greek), a stadium that has hosted the 1896 and the, intercalatory, 1906 Olympics. 

Elsewhere the deterioration is heartbreaking. Somehow one could understand the abandonment of the Canoe/Kayak slalom centre, these disciplines being hardly practiced in Greece.

But how about Beach Volley? The greek feminine team has for years been among the world's best.

The diving pool at the swimming centre is also empty 

but fortunately the pools themselves (main and warm-up one) are still in use.

The same is alas not true for the swimming pool at the Olympic Village. In fact the village itself that was meant to provide housing to hundreds of families is now abandoned.

Seeing all this one is tempted to conclude that Greece should never have embarked upon the organisation of the Olympic Games. It is true that the Games have been an enormous waste of money, close to 10 billion euros. On the other hand they did play a role in accelerating the construction, among others, of the new airport of Athens and the new metro lines. Did they play a role in the current dramatic economic situation of Greece? I am far from been convinced about this. The organisation of the Games was associated to a period of "easy money", when the greek government could borrow without limit. While being in deep debt is never advisable and politicians cannot be excused for being naïve when it comes to money matters, my personal analysis does not put the blame exclusively on the governments that managed the country over the past 40 years. For me the dramatic proportions of the greek crisis are to be sought also in the absolute austerity imposed by the EU and the IMF, which literally ruined the greek economy, and the inflexibility of the ECB which has enforced an near-zero inflation on the eurozone.

In this general depression and given the proverbial lack of organisation of my compatriots it was inevitable that most olympic venues, and even more so the ones corresponding to sports not popular in Greece, would be left to their fate. But, I remember the enthusiasm and the national pride of people during the 2004 Games. I remember how even the nightmarish traffic situation in Athens had dramatically improved during the Games. I remember the fabulous opening and closing ceremonies. Now the witnesses of the glorious past are the olympic ruins of Athens.

Were the 2004 Games a hubris in the eyes of the Olympian Gods? My heart says no but my eyes do weep when I see what remains from that grandiose entreprise.

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