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'Nature loses' at Athens Games

The Athens Olympic Games are described by environmentalists as one of the most nature-unfriendly.
When it won the race to host the 2004 Olympics, Greece promised the greenest Games yet, but environmentalists say the country has won no medals for protecting the natural world.

The barren patches of earth outside Olympic venues testify to what was lost in the rush to get Athens ready.

Given a few more weeks, millions of trees and plants might have given the Games a greener image.

But groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund say the problems are more than aesthetic.

Instead of being built outside wildlife areas and powered by renewable energy, they say the Games cut a swathe through prized environmental assets.

And they are calling on the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the mistakes of Athens are not repeated in Beijing 2008.

'Drop in the ocean'

Organisers admit they failed to follow through on all their pledges, but hail great progress on public transport and in making Greeks more eco-conscious.

George Kazantopoulos, Athens 2004's environmental chief, told BBC News Online: "Things could have been done in a better way, that is obvious. But Athens will never be the Amazon.

"We are proud that we have made a start. We have introduced recycling as a 29th Olympic sport. The tram and the metro are valuable legacies." More than 600 tons of plastics have already been recycled from the 14,000 green bins dotted around Olympic sites - but this is a drop in the ocean, say campaigners.

Xerox's 'record'

The media's voracious appetite for statistics is also feeding off the environment, with Athens organisers producing paper reports on the minutiae of scoring for every event.

Xerox said it was expecting to have printed more than 140 million pages during the Olympics, creating up to 18,000 different Olympic reports across 28 different sports.

"It could have been done purely electronically," Xerox spokesman Kevin Perlmutter said. "But we are providing the service that we have been asked to provide. An enormous amount of that paper is recycled."

But prized countryside was spoilt to make way for the table tennis hall, among other things.

The rowing lake has also come under fire for being built on an endangered coastal eco-system.

Solar energy - which could have been used to heat the water used by thousands of athletes at the Olympic Village - was never adopted, despite Greece's Mediterranean climate.

Demetres Karavellas, head of WWF-Greece said: "Unfortunately, the environment never figured as a priority in the planning of the Athens Olympic Games.

"While the IOC calls the environment its third pillar of Olympianism, it has done very little to keep this from crumbling under the weight of other priorities."

Greenpeace, which gave Sydney 2000 "five out of 10" on the environment, said it "could only give one out of 10 to Athens".

'Greener' Athens

The fact that the environment group is praising multinationals like Coca Cola, McDonald's and Unilever - for using green-friendly refrigeration - is being seen as a sign of how bad the situation is.

Mayor of Athens Dora Bakoyannis said Athens was "greener" than ever.

"I strongly believe that at the end of the Games... we will be able to boast of a reborn city that is cleaner, more beautiful and easier to get around and accessible to all," she said.
The IOC says respect for the environment is a priority, and it is committed to bringing in new initiatives on green issues.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the committee had worked closely with Athens 2004 "to ensure environmental protection measures were considered right from the start".

But green groups say the IOC must work harder than ever to ensure that the environment is a priority for Beijing 2008, where there are still serious concerns over air pollution and water shortages.

In a sign of optimism, the 2008 organisers have just released a Chinese phrasebook that follows the adventures of American tourist, Mike.

In chapter 20, he passes judgement on the Games' environment: "The sky is blue, the water is clearer and Beijing is becoming more and more beautiful."
Greece Ain't What It Used To Be 29.Aug.2004 22:09


I visited Athens as a part of a family trip through Turkey and Greece and the islands. It was our least favorite stop, although the historic sites are worth the visit. Contemporarily speaking, the people were not friendly, food unremarkable, there were many poorly-constructed buildings and slum neighborhoods, and flood control was practically non-existent. I can imagine that the Greek government put very few barriers in the way of Olympic contractors.

In contrast, Turkey was magnificent in every way.