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2006-07-07 18:14

  By Ambassador George Savvaides

  On the Occasion of the 2004 Annual Honors Dinner Dance of the American Hellenic Council of California at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel Los Angeles, 6 March 2004

  Ambassador George Savvaidesㄩ

  Ladies and Gentlemen:

  I would like to thank the American Hellenic Council of California for hosting tonight*s important event, and for providing me with the opportunity to speak to you about the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, including a particular aspect of them 每 namely, the Olympic Truce. I am grateful to the Council, and to all of you, for selecting me as this year*s honoree for the Olympic Truce award.

  When Athens was chosen in 1997 to host the Games, it was more than a satisfying win over its competitors. For Greeks, both at home and abroad, the prospect of the Games returning to the place where they were born nearly three thousand years ago and to the city that saw their revival in modern times in 1896 was both an honorable salute and an exciting challenge. Greeks are excited because they want to host unique Games on a human scale, link the modern with the ancient, by bringing the Olympic movement back to its roots, and avoiding the excessive commercialism of recent Olympics.

  Imagine for a moment that one day you are in ancient Olympia, where the shot put event will take place in the ancient stadium where the Games were held for more than 1000 years from 776BC to 393 AD; the next day you could be sitting in the all-marble Panathenian Stadium of Athens, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, watching archery; the following day at Marathon you could follow the original Marathon course, and the day after you could watch the world*s best cyclists, with the Parthenon in the background.

  Visitors to the Athens Olympics will no doubt be asking themselves: What kind of country will they experience? Let me say a few words about that: Greece of 2004, with all the infrastructure in place, new roads, new airport, new metro 每 is by no means the somewhat underdeveloped country on the outer fringes of Europe that comes to the minds of many people. Although only a small country of some 11 million people, Greece has recently been through a process of rapid modernization. The only country in southeastern Europe that belongs both to the European Union and NATO, Greece has also become a member of Europe*s most exclusive club 每 the euro zone 每 with a stable economy and major investments in the surrounding region. Not to bore you with too many statistics, I would only point out that with a GDP of $180 billion and a per capita income of $17,000, according to the latest World Bank report, Greece is rapidly transforming itself into a country where, in addition to its famous archaeological heritage and natural beauty, visitors to the Olympics will find all the comfort and facilities that travelers hope for.

  All this points to the broader significance for Greece of hosting the 2004 Olympics. More than just a salute to its ancient and special link to the Olympic tradition, the IOC decision in 1997 was a vote of confidence to contemporary Greece , a country with a glorious past but a promising future as well. And the Greeks themselves felt not only the honor of the choice, but also the impetus and the discipline it provided for the further modernization of the country in areas such as construction, transportation, telecommunications, information technology and tourism. They saw the Games as a catalyst for a better capital city and a unique opportunity for the country to show its best face to the world. Athens is a huge construction project now, but it will enormously improve in the summer of 2004: it will be an attractive and enjoyable city for spectators and citizens alike.

  Having said that, I hasten to add that when Athens asked to host the 2004 Olympics, it was not simply asking for what the Olympics could do for the city. It was saying that Athens was eager, able and uniquely qualified to do the job; and that it could do it in a fashion that would uphold and fortify the tradition of the Games and of the Olympic movement. That is still the promise, which, seven years later, Athens 每 and Greece as a whole 每 is anxious and determined to keep.

  Where are we now?

  The organization of the Games is now smoothly on track. All the sports facilities will be in place by May/June 2004, well before the opening of the Games on August 13. Deadlines are tight, however, and there is no room for complacency.

  Let me mention that some delays in the construction of venues were due to a uniquely Greek experience, the discovery of archaeological relics. Archaeologists had to document and protect the antiquities before construction could start or continue. Wherever you dig in Greece, you find ancient artifacts. Our aim is to build state of the art projects, but at the same time to preserve our rich heritage. All these facilities are also subject to environmental impact studies to ensure respect for the country*s ecology and historical heritage.

  No one would deny, of course, that the financial obligations involved in the organization and conduct of an Olympic meeting, with some 10,500 athletes competing, 5,500 team officials assisting, 21,500 journalists reporting, 45,000 volunteers helping, and 150,000 spectators expected to attend the Games daily, will inevitably require a huge expense.

  The budget for organizing the Games is estimated at 1.92 billion euros ($2.5b) and will be balanced. The expenses will be covered from various sources of income, such as television rights, sponsorships, ticket sales, etc. Another 4.6 billion euros ($5.8b) is budgeted for various infrastructure projects, which, while not directly connected with the Olympics, will contribute to the more efficient hosting of the Games and leave a lasting legacy to the capital. These include the new subway network, the new international airport that opened three years ago, new roads, a new suburban railway, and a new tram system, all designed to make sure that spectators and athletes can reach their destinations more efficiently. These major projects will reduce traffic congestion and pollution in Athens by at least 30 percent.

  If you consider the size of the Greek economy, even 5 billion dollars represents 3% of GDP, an amount which we can afford without significant economic dislocations. It is estimated the GDP will increase by 0.5% each year and by 1.3% in 2004 because of the hosting of the Games.

  Security is a top priority for every Olympics and we are leaving nothing to chance in this area, especially after September 11. We have designed a comprehensive security plan, which has been approved by the IOC and will cost at least $800m, three times the amount spent on security in Sydney and Salt Lake City. It involves the deployment of some 50,000 police, army and commando units, the installation of hundreds of cameras and other hi-tech equipment, a border force to better police the sea and land borders, and increased international cooperation with security experts from the U.S., Britain, Israel, Spain, Australia, France and Germany, working together with Greek authorities. A 255m euros ($320m) security contract was awarded last March to the San-Diego based SAIC company to provide the most sophisticated security and communications systems in the world. We have held seven security exercises so far and we are planning one major one next week with the help and participation of the US. Greece is also sharing intelligence with many countries and international organizations, including NATO. Thousands of Greek police staff have been trained by US experts in Greece and the US.

  In order to accommodate the extended Olympic family, 17,000 hotel rooms have been secured and there are 27,000 rooms available in the greater Athens area. But the need to accommodate the tens of thousands of spectators expected in Athens for the Games is a challenge that we are determined to meet as well. This involves the construction of new hotels, the use of cruise ships with at least 3,300 cabins, as well as the rental of private homes, the owners of which have been offered specific tax incentives for this purpose.

  Ticket sales, which are 34% cheaper than the average ticket price in Sydney, have exceeded our expectations, so far. In the US, three agencies have been designated by the US Olympic Committee to handle the 150,000 tickets expected to be available to US buyers with prices ranging from $14 for the archery event to over $1000 for the opening ceremonies.

  There are also some unique aspects of these Olympics. In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were a festival of sports and the arts, and we want these Olympics also to be a celebration of sports and culture, with many cultural activities planned between 2001- 2004. The Cultural Olympiad provides for the restoration of archaeological sites in Athens, linking them into an archaeological park. It includes also art exhibitions, music and ancient drama productions in famous ancient theaters, such as Delphi, Olympia, Epidaurus and Athens, and many other cultural events that will cost an estimated 120 million euros. An extra 100m euros is being spent in Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, for the unification of the archaeological site, the renovation of the existing archaeological museum, the creation of a new museum for the Olympic Games, and new roads.

  In an effort to redefine the Olympics and restore some of the forgotten ideals which inspired the games of ancient Greece, we have proposed the revival of an ancient tradition, the Olympic Truce, when warring peoples laid down their arms and sought the paths of peace for the duration of the Games. According to legend, Kind Ifitos of Elis, seeking to establish peace among warring Greeks, visited the Oracle of Delphi. There, he was advised to break the cycle of conflict every four years by replacing war with friendly athletic competition. Ifitos sought the cooperation of Kings Lycourgos of Sparta and Cleosthenes of Pisa. They agreed to a truce called ※Ekeheiria§ and organized the first Olympic Games at Olympia.

  Fighting ceased from seven days before until seven days after the Games, allowing athletes, artists, and spectators to travel to Olympia, participate in the Olympic Games and return to their homelands in peace.

  It was through these early Games that the ancient tradition of Olympic Truce was born 每 a truly remarkable and effective truce, respected during more than 1200 years of ancient history.

  In our days, this idea might be considered by some to be highly romantic. However, an international center was established in Greece, supported by IOC and personalities from around the world, to encourage dialogue and confidence between embattled rivals and their cooperation with international agencies. The hope is that, besides the cessation of hostilities during the two weeks of the Games, this truce will be expanded and take permanent hold. We have received the support of the United Nations General Assembly, which unanimously passed a resolution last November calling for an Olympic Truce during the Athens Games.

  For the 2004 Olympic Games, the Olympic torch will travel from ancient Olympia to 34 cities in 27 countries in all five continents and for the first time in history will pass through the continents of Africa and South America. In the US it will pass through four cities in mid-June, including Los Angeles on the 16th, in a celebration of the Olympic spirit, with the message ※Pass the Flame-Unite the World§。

  I have given you only a brief outline of what we are trying to accomplish in 2004. We fully realize what is at stake with these Olympics and how great a challenge we have taken on. This is a major test of the ability and the image of Greece. We do not underestimate it, but we feel confident that we will rise to the occasion because no one in the world cares more about the success and welfare of the Olympic movement than the Greeks, who initiated the whole concept. We have carefully studied and observed previous Olympics to learn positive lessons and avoid potential problems, so that the athletes and the world may enjoy unique Olympics on a human scale, combining history, culture and state-of-the-art organization that will set the standard for the years to come. The same applies to the Paralympic Games, which will begin 20 days later, with the participation of 4,000 athletes with disabilities from around the world.

  Let me take this opportunity and invite you and your families to come to Greece for the Olympic Games in 2004; it was going to be a lifetime experience.

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