In just over a month, London will host the biggest sporting event - the Olympic Games. For more than two years now, the home of the Games – Greece has been in a severe economic crisis and engaging in sports has become a very difficult task.
According to the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Kapralos, the Greek Olympic team, which is traditionally the first to enter the stadium, have managed to train despite the difficulties and it is hoping for medals.
"Compared to everything else we are experiencing in the country today, we can speak of a miracle in sports. I am talking about amateur sports. And that is because 92 athletes have already qualified for participation in the Olympic Games in London despite the lack of basics and discontent, and closed sports facilities, but with the support of coaches and sports federations. Qualifications have not yet finished. We are still fighting in several individual sports and in basketball, the games of which will be held in Venezuela in early July. Under these conditions, we will have a delegation of about 110 athletes. I think it is a great success."
But how was it achieved? According to Spyros Kapralos, the so-called Olympic training resources that the state once allocated to sport federations through the Hellenic Olympic Committee were suspended back in 2009. He noted that the money had been generously provided, without any control on whether it was spent for the intended purpose.
"The Greek state granted 30 million euro for training for the Beijing Games. In 2009, it allocated 8 million euro, planning to make them 30 million over the next four years. Then, it decided to stop granting these funds."
So, Hellenic Olympic Committee members were forced by circumstances to seek funds from sponsors. "We turned to companies whose names mean nothing to you. Many of them are abroad. We had the support of the International Olympic Committee, which granted 22 scholarships for Greek athletes to train for the Olympic Games in London. Most of them have qualified and are now in our delegation."
The International Olympic Committee has granted other funds "because they knew that they would actually be spent for Olympic training rather than for the organization of various events and for other unnecessary things."
Spyros Kapralos expressed his hope that the medals to which the athletes, participating in the Games, are striving will be "pure." "We hope they will be more than the four medals we won at the Beijing Games. I have this great hope inside - that this goal will be achieved and the success of our athletes will bring joy to our daily round full of problems."
He described the future of Greek sports in very dark colours. "Besides the fact that the money to be spent on sports is little compared with other countries, a significant amount of it is not used for that purpose. So many people were appointed in the Olympic Committee and federations in the past, the great majority of whom were completely unnecessary, that the cost of their salaries consumed a great part of the money.
Sports facilities are in a desperate condition because nobody gives money for their maintenance and so, they will survive until they collapse. At the same time, there is constant pressure for further reducing their number. For example, the boat base in Agios Kozmas, where hundreds of athletes were trained, will be closed after the Olympic Games in London."
After the revelations of the cases of athletes using doping, the Greek government has decided to eliminate the incentives for sports, "which were excessive in many cases. Many unpopular sports were supported for the sole purpose of "fixing up" certain people. In the same extreme way, they decided that the incentives had caused the doping cases. They may have helped to some extent, but they were not the main cause."
The president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee clarified that he meant not only money, but also cases of dismissal of athletes - members of the Olympic team in order to train for the Games. "One such case is that of an athlete - a civil servant, who had to go on unpaid leave to train." Athletes - pupils or students were faced with the paradox of being marked absent or not being allowed to sit exams later, taking the risk of losing the school year. The advantage of athletes in entering universities was cancelled too. "In this way, they and their parents decide to stop training and to take up their education." The biggest paradox is that when the Committee turned to the authorities with the request to return non-financial incentives, this could not happen due to bureaucratic obstacles.
He did not fail to express his position on the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, which many Greeks consider a big mistake today because of their high budget. "The result of their realization can be viewed from different perspectives. We made culpable mistakes and built sports facilities that could be only temporary. But here, under pressure from Greek sports federations, facilities for each sport were built, because they all wanted to develop them afterwards. The second one is that no one thought what would happen to these facilities after the Games. The result today is that these facilities are at the end of their resources."
On the other hand, we must not forget that most of the facilities are used as they were used in the past. They also have enabled us to develop sports, in which we had very little international influence like rowing and to hope for medals today. And most importantly, all of us who live in this city use every day the facilities built for the Games. I think that without them, our lives would be much more difficult, especially with regard to roads, undergrounds and the airport."