From heaven to hell, Greek sport in freefall

Mon Feb 6, 2012 7:51am EST
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By Karolos Grohmann

ATHENS (Reuters) - Peeling paint flakes from Athens' Olympic park. Its entrances locked, this once sparkling edifice to sporting greatness lies rotting and largely unused -- maintenance costs too high for near-bankrupt Greece to operate.

The rate of decay and dilapidation in just eight years provides a visual clue to the Greek scenario, one as effective as any economist's report or politician's statement.

"Like heaven and hell," Greek athletics federation chief Vassilis Sevastis told Reuters, comparing the heady days of 2004 when the Greeks staged the Olympics, with today.

Back then the country was crackling with optimism, pride and activity, as it rushed to deliver the multi-billion dollar Games organizers hoped would boost the country's growth and its modern image abroad.

The Greeks also spared no expense in preparing the foundations for a spectacular medal haul: 16 medals for a nation of just 10 million people.

These days, however, Greek athletes must be satisfied with a trickle of money as they prepare for this year's London Olympics, the debt crisis having dried up almost every revenue stream for sports, public or private.

"It reflects our reality. The country that gave birth to the notion of measure went completely over the top," Sevastis said.

The 2004 Games that were to help shape a better future for Greece, turned into a noose as the billions of euros they cost only weighed on the country's subsequent debt crisis.   Continued...

<p>The Olympic Taekwondo stadium is seen behind a fence at Faliro complex in Athens, in this file picture taken May 17 2011. REUTERS/John Kolesidis/Files</p>