Greeks facing Olympic-sized debt

You remember the Summer Olympic Games of Athens, don’t you? I sure hope so, because it’s going to take the Greeks at least a millennium to pay for them.
The figures are in and they give off an aura more of Hades than Aphrodite to put it simply (or metaphorically). The Games (get this) will cost the people of Greece close to $13.8 billion (Cdn.) in all, which is more than double the initial projections.
Now that’s a lot of gyros.
To put things in perspective, the Summer Games of Sydney in 2000 cost a measly $1.78 billion while the Atlanta Olympics in ’96 went for a diminutive $2.04 billion.
According to the latest reports (and I do stress latest), the costs include the metro extension ($757 million), a suburban rail line ($876 million), a tram line ($538 million), and “other expenditures” estimated at $1.14 billion to businesses and industries of the “broader public sector.”
Now here’s another figure that will knock the tzatziki out of you. The security bill for Athens was (gulp) $1.39 billion, which is the highest in Olympic history and nearly the entire cost of the Sydney Games people.
And now my peoples are stuck with a bunch of huge, expensive stadiums ($2.38 billion in new or refurbished sports venues) they’ll never use again—Hey, kids, what do you say we go synchronized diving today?!—and will take $103.8 million a year just to maintain and operate.
“There is a huge overrun in relation to original estimates,” Greece’s finance minister, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, told The Associated Press.
Gee, ya think?!
But really, who is to blame for Greece’s over spending, which put the country’s deficit to 5.3 percent (well above the three percent ceiling allowed by the European Union, which Greece is a member of)?
Us, that’s who—as in the Western civilized world.
The Greeks had to pay for our paranoia. We insisted on it. They had to put up blimps and cameras all over the city to bring us over—and even when they did, people still didn’t show because “I’m scared something might happen.”
Hogwash. The only thing that did happen was the staging of the safest Olympics in history. I guarantee you that people felt a heckuva lot safer during those three weeks in Athens than say in Toronto, Los Angeles, or a Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game.
Most people thought Greece would be safer than a child at the Neverland Ranch, but it was, in fact, safer than a kid at a Raffi concert. Nothing happened. Zero. Zilch. And most people now agree nothing would have occurred even if those extraordinary measures weren’t taken.
“The Olympic Games were an investment,” Alogoskoufis added.
So was it worth it? The deficit? The hiked-up taxes? The years it will take to pay it all off?
Well, as the fifth-century Greek philosopher Socrates would say—“Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence brings about wealth and all other public and private blessings for men.”
In other words—OPA!
Greece proved yet again what it is capable of. They brought us back to the beginning. They made us, for a day or two, stop and consider how much and how little we’ve progressed, and for that we are thankful.
They did everything asked of them. The world demanded a safe and efficient Games—check. Demanded fresh new venues—check. Demanded a “blast from the past”—check.
You wanted it; they delivered.
Everything was on time and in perfect working order. The buses, the computers hummed along, and left people with the impression they aren’t a hub of chaos, but a utopia of advancement blended nicely with their rich history.
The Games of Athens broke all global television viewing records with nearly four billion people tuning in at least once during the games, beating the previous record of 3.6 billion viewers for the Sydney Games, and it was estimated the total cumulative television audience (with viewers counted each time they watched) at around 40 billion.
“Athens has set a new benchmark,” IOC president Jacques Rogge told the media, “with the highest audience, images of spectacular quality, expanded coverage of sport, and new technologies.”
You got that right Mr. President.
Hey, even I had doubts. I was there a few years back and I saw the construction (or should I say the lack of) work being done. Near my family’s home in Marathona, the rowing event was to be staged at Schinias and I witnessed firsthand the laziness and lack of commitment set forth.
I was petrified they wouldn’t make it in time. I’ll admit it. I mocked my peoples. I ridiculed them. I envisioned a bunch of lazy, swarthy guys in wife-beater T-shirts chugging ouzo during the afternoon hours instead of seeding the soccer fields.
I was sure weightlifters would be lifting rocks, pole vaulters jumping over tractors, and swimmers racing in three feet of chlorine-free water. I had nightmares of women madly weaving olive wreaths next to the podiums as the national anthems started.
I foresaw people sprinting along painting stripes just yards ahead of runners.
But you have to be Greek or know a Greek to understand why things went and turned out the way they did. We don’t like doing things the easy way. We enjoy drama, and will take the hardest road possible to achieve the simplest task.
And when world’s toughest task in organizing a post-9/11 Olympics was presented, we didn’t just give you the games, we gave you the best games ever.
I only remind you of this to make sure it’s never forgotten.

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