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Olympic Games 2004: Profits for the plutocracy – consequences for the people

Article published in the magazine of CP USA Political Affairs

From the first moment (1997) when Athens was selected by the IOC to host the Olympic Games, the parties that alternate in power, the media and businessmen in Greece started gloating and making the Games into some kind of a national goal. For seven years now, the Greek people have been subjected to a volley of arguments which by appealing either to emotionalism or rationality have attempted to convince them that the Olympic Games in 2004 constitute a "great opportunity”.

From the very first moment that Greece’s hosting of the Olympic Games began being discussed, the CPG tried to focus the people’s attention on some of the substantial issues related to the Games, their nature, the conditions under which they will be held, and the situation in the field of sports in Greece and internationally. Thus, in March of 1997, the CC of the CPG met and discussed the Athens candidacy to hold the games in 2004. It issued an announcement in which the following points were made:

"1. The domination of the multinationals and imperialism gives the Olympic Games the stigma of the commercialisation of sport, utilising them in a variety of ways to the detriment of the social needs and rights of peoples and countries.

"The fight to restore the values of the Olympic movement and of the Olympic Games as an institution is associated especially with the choice made by the correlation of forces in every country and internationally at the expense of multinational domination. This fight is being waged on a daily basis by KKE  to solve the more general problems, but also problems in the realm of sport in particular.

"2. KKE believes that the solution does not lie in refusing or abolishing the Olympic Games, but in organising a popular front to address political and other issues, to strike a blow against the commercialisation of the Games, and to achieve gains, large and small, that will slow down adverse developments and pave the way for restoring the social mission of sport to the benefit of the working people and youth, and to promote peace, friendship and cooperation among peoples and countries.

"3. Our people must fight to ensure the minimum prerequisites that will lend meaning to the Olympic Games in 2004, if they are held in Athens. Specifically:

  • Upgrading the games in their birthplace, opposing their commercialisation.
  • Ensuring that along the way, long-term issues in sport are dealt with including the institutional framework, research, documentation and funding, so that all Greeks can take part in athletics.
  • Ensuring that there will be no financial burden on the working class and that the financial processes are absolutely transparent.
  • Social benefit from athletic and other infrastructure works.
  • Substantial upgrading of the environment.

"4. The presentation of the file[1] as well as the more general government choices are not moving along these lines, a fact that is expressed in particular in the following issues:

  • An over-concentration of all functions in the Attica basin, a dually negative fact because it means that the environment will be further burdened and that infrastructures and resources are not being decentralised to ensure some benefit for the periphery, which has greater needs.
  • The way in which serious problems are being addressed, e.g. traffic, accommodation of visitors, and the functionality of the city itself, look like exercises in theory for anyone who experiences the daily problems of living in Athens and who is familiar with the planning for such works, e.g. the Metro, and their repercussions.
  • Assignment of the construction of the works to multinational corporations and self-financing on unspecified terms create the certainty that those who will benefit from the Olympic Games will once again be the big contractors, and that the Greek people will pay a very high price for it all.”

And the announcement concluded: "As citizens of the country that gave birth to the Olympic spirit, we will be proud only when Greece defends the social mission of sport and the ideals of friendship, peace and brotherhood among peoples.”

* * *
Four months before the games open, we have plenty of evidence to indicate how the organisation has progressed and whether the initial assessments we had made as a party were correct.

A. Cost: Who is going to pay?

The real cost of hosting the games was not made known to the Greek people from the beginning. During the period of the Athens candidacy for the games (1996), the cost of the games was deliberately downplayed, to the point where an evaluation was presented to the people that the hosting of the games would present a financial surplus[2] for the city of Athens.

Finally, not only will there be no surplus, but four months before the opening of the games, it is very difficult to assess the real final cost of hosting the Olympic Games in Athens. The initial estimate of 500 billion drachmas, according to data[3] that have come to light, has increased by 600%.

The inflated amount that the Olympic projects and Olympic preparations in general will cost the Greek people is a product of the capitalist economy in which everything is determined on the criterion of profit for businesses. It would not be possible for the Olympic games to deviate from this general rule, when public works and state provisions in Greece constitute an extremely powerful tool for redistributing the national income to the benefit of the monopolies. To the application of this general rule are added the interventions of the IOC in favour of this or that required specification[4] or, by extension, in favour of the company that can meet these specifications. The urgent nature of the works and the proclamation of the Olympic games in 2004 as a major "national cause” are factors that create the appropriate ground for extortion and graft of all kinds, for which no one is ever punished.

So the cost of the Olympic works has kept rising:

1. Because a long period elapsed and the vague words of the candidacy file eventually became reality.[5]

2. Because the PASOK government linked the Olympic projects with the investment plans of big capital and thus there was a tug-of-war between conflicting interests, both in the government and outside it, over what agency would handle the projects and how the pie would be divided.

3. Because when the budget and the technical features of the works were eventually finalised, the relentless pressure of time led to their assignment to contractors with little or no discount.

4. Because the bonuses[6] paid to contractors to expedite the works and finish them before the specified date raised their costs even higher.

5. Because, as the date of the opening of the games approaches and the works are still incomplete, appetites are whetted for further demands.

But it is not just the cost of the Olympic buildings that has been going up. The programme for Olympic "security”, about the ramifications of which we will speak later, has become a champion in cost overruns. The NATOisation of security for the Olympic games and the anti-terror hysteria that has been widespread since 11 September and 11 March justify any expense cited for the supposed purpose of guaranteeing security for the games. The amount of ? 800 million that was initially provided to cover the cost of security measures for 2004[7] is expected to increase significantly. The ND government that has taken the "initiative” of discussing NATO involvement has not announced the financial consequences of such a development. However, information from journalistic sources reports that the cost of Olympic security could be as high as 3 billion.

B. Works that are in the interest of capitalist profit but contrary to the people’s needs

The question of cost is correctly examined as a function of the "nature” of a project. The permanent argument which was advanced for seven years by the PASOK government, and accepted[8] by the ND as official opposition, was that the Olympic Games will contribute to Greece’s development and modernisation. But the questions that arise are: who benefits from this development, on whose behalf are the projects being built, what priorities are being set for spending the state’s resources, and whether a project is by nature for the people.

On the occasion of the Olympic games and their cost, the CPG has often emphasised the following: In the Athens of 2004 there are hundreds of working class families who are still homeless after the earthquake in 1999 and who are living in containers provided by the state. At the same moment, enormous resources have been spent to place a tasteless "crest” designed by the Spanish architect over the Athens Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA). The contrast is glaring. And this is not the only one.

Therefore the question is not only how much is being spent, but what it is being spent on. The enormity of the sports facilities was not a random choice. It is part of the planning to create the infrastructure required by big capital in the culture-athletics industry.[9]

On the pretext of the Olympic Games, vast state resources are being channelled into the investment plans of big capital. For this reason the Federation of Greek Industries, big hotel owners and bankers are enthusiastic supporters of the 2004 Games.

The Olympic Games are accelerating structural changes in the capitalist economy, particularly in the geographic periphery of Attica. There have been widespread privatisations of large expanses of public land in the concrete-choked Attica basin.[10]

Any even token protection of the natural environment that had been legislated[11] by the state was swiftly repealed in order to allow capital to develop commercial activities both before and after the Olympic Games. The repercussions on the environment are massive. Thousands of tons of concrete have been added to the Athens basin, circumventing the people’s right to breathe clean air.

C. In August 2004, AWACS will be patrolling the Athens skies instead of doves of peace

Contrary to all their fine words about reviving the institution of the Olympic Truce that was in force during the Olympic Games in antiquity, the government is planning for NATOised and militarised games. Our party pointed out the hypocritical nature of the PASOK government’s initiatives to revive the ancient custom by setting up an International Institute for the Olympic Truce under the auspices of the UN and the IOC. Heads of imperialist states like the USA, Great Britain, etc. who are to blame for the wars, hastened to support this initiative. This fact alone makes the entire venture of the 2004 Olympic Truce nothing more than a media-oriented ceremony aiming to lend greater prestige to the Olympic Games and to support the view that their hosting in 2004 in their country of origin re-baptises them in the sacred springs.

But it is not only the public image of the games that is concerned.

The PASOK government, with the consenting opinion of ND, took advantage of the issue of "security” for the games to update means and measures for repression and surveillance. These means (new weaponry for the security corps, cameras, modern surveillance systems, etc.) will remain in operation after the games and will obviously be turned against the labour and popular movement. Greece has spent many millions of euros to import new technologies for reconnaissance and surveillance. And there is no need to ask: it was U.S. companies that supplied our country with these systems.[12]

Freedom of association and assembly will be restricted and controlled for one month before and one month after the games, and demonstrations will be prohibited. The PASOK government involved the secret services of foreign states (Mossad, CIA, FBI) in the security of the Olympic Games, with the possibility that they would participate in the committee of experts.

In the final days of the PASOK government, a presidential decree was issued by which the Greek armed forces will undertake security duties during the games. This is the first time since the dictatorship that the army will be used in the role of domestic repression on the pretext of dealing with terrorism.[13]

After the bombing in Madrid, the ND government asked NATO to contribute to protecting the games in 2004. The involvement of NATO in the games was planned by the previous government. Madrid simply provided the opportunity for this involvement to be announced by the ND government, which had no intention of cancelling what PASOK had planned. NATO’s undertaking of security for the games was planned methodically, by applying the right pressure and by well-targeted publications.

NATO and the USA planned for this development not in order to protect their athletes – whom they know to be in no danger – but to play the role of gendarme in the Mediterranean on the pretext of the Olympic games. The NATO umbrella of "protection” is a very costly plan to activate the bases in Greece, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, and it involves patrols by AWACS in our airspace, the right of NATO ships to carry out inspections of ships in international waters, the formal concession to NATO giving it a major voice in decisions, and a special body of selected forces that will be deployed on land. The previous PASOK government as well as the new ND government are making Greece pay for providing NATO with an opportunity to carry out a large-scale preparedness exercise aiming not at terrorists, but at the people, right in the heart of the city and under real conditions.

And even if the intention was to address possible terrorist actions during the period of the games, the "security” measures mentioned above are ineffective. A significant parameter of these security measures is the effort to stifle the anti-imperialist feelings of the Greek people; that is for the Greek people to admit that it must accept this "protection” so as not to be threatened by terrorism.

* * *
The acute problems that afflict the Greek people, and that are due to the policy of Maastricht and the EMU and to the policy in favour of capital, will continue to afflict them with the same or greater intensity after the games. The change of government that took place on 7 March, with the victory of the ND party in the parliamentary elections, will not change the nature of the policy being implemented. When it was the official opposition, ND supported the Olympic Games as a national goal, and as government it adheres to the policy of its predecessors.

For the popular movement, the challenge is to permit no reactionary decisions taken ostensibly in their name to be implemented after the games are over; and to struggle to reverse the prohibitions, to stop electronic surveillance, and to prevent the Olympic facilities from being sold off to capital.

The Greek people, who are the real sponsors of the Olympic Games, are entitled to have the final say in the use of the Olympic venues after the games, not the Coca Cola Company or any other business groups who have placed their stamp even on the Olympic flame!

[1] Reference is to the file presenting the candidacy for the Olympic Games in 2004 that was submitted to the IOC on behalf of Athens the candidate city.

[2] The authors of the candidacy file for the 2004 Olympic Games calculated that the games would leave a surplus of 10 billion drachmas (=29,34 million ?).

[3] In 1996, the candidacy file estimated the cost at about 500 billion drs. In June of 2000, the first official updating of the cost of the games increased it to 1.15 trillion drachmas. In 2001, the government announced that the cost of the Olympic preparations had been "locked in” at 1.5 trillion drachmas, and that this amount was the "ceiling”. Since then, an "embargo” has been imposed on information about the cost of the Olympic preparation. The stereotyped answer was that ‘the final cost of the Olympic preparation will not exceed 1.5 trillion drachmas’. However, all evidence indicates revisions upward in the cost of the works and programmes for the games. Today unofficial government sources estimate that the cost of the games will exceed 3.5 trillion drs.

[4] We would note the famous roof over the Olympic Stadium without which television would "not be able” to take the desired shots in the swimming events. Finally the swimming races will take place without the roof, but the Greek tax-payers have paid the full price to Mr Calatrava to whom the work was assigned directly, without public competition.

[5] PASOK, as government, is mainly responsible for the contents of the candidacy file which it supported passionately from the beginning. It asserted then that Athens possesses 70% of the necessary infrastructure for the games and that in seven years, the remaining 30% could be built comfortably.

[6] For every day earlier than the specified date of completion of the stages in each project the construction company received a bonus. Bonuses to the contractors were paid with the life of eleven workers on Olympic projects due to the over-intensification of labour and the absence of protective health and safety measures on work sites, even those provided by the legislation

[7] Security for the Olympic Games of 2004 is one of the most expensive programme of the entire event compared to the other programmes for the games. The budget of ? 800 million is the second largest budget item after the buildings for Olympic events.

[8] The ND as opposition criticised the PASOK government on the basic argument that through its policy, the great development programme of the Olympic Games was jeopardised. ND fully accepted the development dimension of the Olympic Games for the capitalist economy. It criticised the PASOK government from the position that the total of Olympic works should from the beginning have been handed over to private enterprise with the method of self-financing.)

[9] The social right to athletics is being undermined by the stifling monopoly control over sports. Even though there are no facilities for the people to engage in athletic activity, the Olympic Games will leave behind a heritage of thousands of seats for a nation of spectators of sporting events featuring athletes who are part of the tough system of competition and performance which, because it is controlled by large-scale interests, is not at all "clean”’; this is well known. The governments are to blame for not placing Greece squarely in the forefront of the fight against doping and violence.

[10] On the occasion of the works for the Olympic Games, public as well as private lands in the Athens basin have come under the control of big capital, such as: the site of the old airport at Hellenikon, the Veikou Forest in Galatsi, the Schinia region of Marathon which is of great historic and ecological significance, the site of the old racetrack in Kallithea, the park at Goudi, the Bay of Faliro, the Athens coastline on the Saronic Gulf, large expanses in the Mesogeia region – and all this in a city in which the green space available to its inhabitants works out to 2.55 m2/inhabitant! At the same time, the city is eating up the mountain slopes around it, destroying any remaining suburban green space (The Olympic village in Thracomacedones).

[11] The building of the Olympic facilities in the capital region conflicted with the Athens Master Plan which had the force of law since 1985. Sweeping changes were made by the PASOK government in the legislative framework regarding the terms of urban planning and land use in Attica. A large number of laws were passed, foremost among which is Law 2730. All the new regulations at the expense of the conservation and protection of the natural environment, against the expansion of the green space and in favour of ever more concrete to the benefit of business groups.

[12] The program for the installation of the TETRA system under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Order was assigned to SAIC, a joint venture of US, Israeli and Greek companies.

[13]The country’s armed forces are acquiring a NATO orientation through their involvement in imperialist wars beyond the national frontiers and against other peoples and countries. The second role for which they are intended is to deal with the internal enemy, i.e. the people. Decisions to "modernise” the armed forces by reducing the period of service for conscripts and introducing the institution of the professional soldier, i.e. the mercenary, aim to serve this character of the army that the new imperialist world order requires.


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