If we want a demonstration of peaceful competition and human interaction – and a true celebration of humanity and diversity – then we should look no further than the Olympic ideals, says Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki
Since ancient times, peaceful competition on the athletic and sporting field has served as a useful metaphor for how human interaction ought to work in other spheres – from business to politics.
If champions are the image of human perfection, one might argue, a safe and fair international sporting competition should also provide an ideal for how national and international affairs might properly be organized.
Individuals and national teams strive for victory before impartial judges. The race goes to the swiftest, not the wealthiest or the most famous. Victors are honoured with laurels. All competitors are watched with pride by their countrymen.
These simple and powerful experiences celebrate humanity, as they did in ancient times. In this modern day and age, however, they also require extraordinary preparations. Individual competition requires international cooperation.
As in the world of international politics, security has become a vital element in the success of international sporting events. As we prepare for the Athens 2004 Summer Games, we recognize that the only way we can properly honour the ancient Olympic ideals is to provide the world with a safe and secure Games.
Security is our top priority. At €650 million, the Olympic security budget is by far the largest in the history of the Games. More than 40,000 security personnel will be deployed in and around Athens during the Games, in addition to the security forces operating in the other four Olympic cities around the country hosting preliminary football matches.
To ensure close coordination and rapid response among the various security forces – including the police, the coastguard, the fire brigade and the military – all the forces have united under a single operational unit, called the Olympic Games Security Division. Greece is meeting the global terrorist threat with an international prevention strategy – sharing intelligence with its allies, creating a security strategy with input from the seven-nation Olympic Advisory Group, and working with nations to detect and end potential actions before they can threaten the Games.
For us, however, honouring Olympic ideals starts but does not end with security. A fair international competition must have practical, technical excellence. We in Athens must – and will – have the fields of play prepared, and housing ready for athletes, officials, and visitors.
A new subway system and a new airport are up and running. Tickets will be printed and venues will welcome thousands of spectators. Volunteers will help direct teams and tourists alike.
When we welcome the Olympics Games home in August, however, we will aspire to do more than host a technically excellent event. We hope to remind the world of the deeper meaning of the Games – a meaning that is deeply intertwined with our identity as a nation. Three stadiums will tell our story. The first is the ancient stadium at Olympia – a small and hallowed field where the actual idea and practice of the Olympic Games began.
In August 2004, we will hold the shot-put event in this very stadium (and, for the first time, women will compete at ancient Olympia too). This will remind the world that the Games were born in Greece.
The ancient Olympic Games were an astounding reflection of the aspirations of Greece in antiquity – a gift to civilization alongside Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. Their beginnings as religious ceremonies – marked by amateurism and purity, bracketed by the Olympic Truce and celebrated by poets – still speak to us of people who dreamed of perfecting themselves and thus their societies. They are the pure physical expression of a philosophical ideal.
The manageable size of the field at Olympia will also help remind us all of the need to keep competition on a human scale.
Today, Greece no longer claims a monopoly on democratic government and compelling thinkers. But, like these values, the ideals of the Games are embraced and celebrated by every host nation, every four years. Since their modern revival in Athens in 1896, the Games have been held in 23 cities around the world.
The second stadium – Panathinaiko (known as the “marble” stadium by locals) – is where the modern Olympic Games were revived in 1896. We will host the archery event within its marble curves. We hope that this will remind everyone that the modern nations of the world have now competed in these Games for more than a century, and kept the ideals of the ancient Games alive.
But there is more in Athens than its past. Just as the 1896 Games were in part a celebration of Greece’s new independence, as well as our history and culture, the 2004 Games celebrate the realization of our dream of a modern Greece, one as successful and respected as our past has always been.
This contemporary achievement will be symbolized by the state-of-the-art facilities of the third stadium – the OAKA Stadium, capped by a striking dome designed by architectural master Santiago Calatrava. As is the case in every Olympic host city, Athens will have its own modern architectural landmark left by the Games.
Our goal is to offer the world a secure Games, a Games that celebrates the best of ancient and modern Greece. Our success – which we do not take for granted, but are working towards, night and day – will, we hope, bring pride to our country and keep alive a bright Olympic flame in the heart of our world.
If we test our limits as organizers, the athletes on the field will be able to test theirs as competitors. And, once again, sport will provide an image of excellence – to individuals and nations alike.
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is president of the Athens 2004 Olympic Organising Committee. In 1994 she was appointed vice-chair of the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 1998 she was appointed Ambassador at Large by the Greek state.