International Papers

Testing Greece’s Olympic Mettle

Will Athens win a gold for security?

With just days to go until the Olympics return to their home in Athens, the world’s newspapers are filled with stories about the games and—inevitably in this post-9/11 world—the security measures. Speculation is running rife over whether Greece will follow in the footsteps of other Olympic hosts in using the event to showcase their arrival into the “club” of modern nations.

London’s Daily Mirror published a detailed report of the security measures being taken by the Greek government at a cost of between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion. The paper quoted the Greek culture minister, who insisted the games would be safe: “We have 70,000 policemen and agents from the Army who are on duty for security. They have been trained for years.” A top organizer of the games told the paper, “The best security operation in the history of the Olympics is in place.”

All the publicity about the threat of attack has linked “Olympics” and “terrorism” in many people’s minds, but a Canadian cybersleuth who tracks terror chatter online believes widespread speculation about an attack in Athens decreases the chances of one actually taking place. The Toronto Star quoted him saying, “It will happen when our guard is let down. … But in a sense, the terrorists have still achieved their goals because of all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that is being spent on security for the Olympics and the presidential conventions.”

A Toronto Star columnist isn’t quite so sure the Olympics will get a pass from would-be terrorists. “Terrorism is the elephant in the room at the XXVIII Olympics—the first Summer Games to be held since 9/11, in a Europe without borders, hosted by a country close to the turbulent Middle East, with its own stew of domestic bomb-throwers,” she wrote. Noting that the Olympics are returning to the land that spawned them thousands of years ago, she noted, “In the days of antiquity, heralds were sent across the breadth of the Greek empire to declare an Olympic truce in the months before, during and after the ancient games. Endlessly warring city-states laid down their arms and travelers were promised safe voyage to Olympia. Authority for this truce came from no less a source than the Oracle of Delphi.”

Nobody is willing to rely on such god-given truces in Athens this month. The world has put its trust in high-tech surveillance, backup from NATO, and, as the Jerusalem Post reported, extra fences around the housing compound for Israeli athletes.

But, even in the post-9/11 world, there’s more to the Olympics than threats of terror. London’s Daily Telegraph noted in a laudatory editorial that the Olympics come hot on the heels of Greece’s surprise victory last month in the Euro 2004 soccer championship, and the Greek government hopes to show the world “that their country has broken free of the past … to become a modern, efficient nation. … [T]hey deserve success, and the wholehearted support of the rest of the world.”

The world will be watching, and for hundreds of millions of Americans, that means bleary-eyed days at the office after hours in front of the television. Sports-crazed Australians will also be glued to their sets, which helps explain the incredulity with which many Aussies surely greeted the report in the Age that Indonesians * are so bored by the games that they don’t seem to care that no Indonesian TV operator will bother to broadcast them. The Age noted that Indonesia has the dubious honor of being the only country in the world that is sending athletes to compete in Athens but will not broadcast any of the events. An executive of RCTI, the private network that has broadcast the Olympics from Sydney, Atlanta, and Seoul but declined to buy the rights this year, explained, “The Olympics are very boring. If you watch weightlifting, you have to watch one athlete after another before you can see the final and by then Indonesian viewers will have changed channels.”

Correction, Aug. 9, 2004: According to the Age of Melbourne, Indonesia is the only country to send athletes to the Olympic Games but not to televise the events, not Malaysia as this article originally and incorrectly stated. (Return to the corrected sentence.)