Make Athens the Olympics’ Permanent Home

MAY-JUNE 2017|BY Glenn Levine
A few years ago Greece’s quarrels with European banks seemed mostly a continental concern.

But today, with conditions inside the EU, NATO and the surrounding Mediterranean in flux, the U.S. stands to benefit by seeing Greece’s economic and political conditions improve. Greece provides the keystone for the Euro-Atlantic community’s southern flank, in association with neighboring Turkey and Bulgaria. Because Greece sits in a commanding position in the Eastern Mediterranean and near the entrance to the Black Sea, its constancy remains important to the United States and our allies.

So what steps could Americans encourage that will contribute to Greece’s well-being and that will not cost the U.S. one dollar?

Return the summer Olympic games to Athens. Permanently.

The initial benefits will be economic for Greece and for its financiers in Brussels, Berlin and Paris. Providing the Greek economy with a predictable stream of taxable revenue surrounding each Olympics will help refinance and repay international debt and maintain the country’s economic health. Hosting a single Olympics is not necessarily profitable, given the outlays needed to prepare. Greece, however, already has purpose-built infrastructure that can be made ready and employed for years to come.

Using—and reusing—Greece’s existing Olympic infrastructure will let us all align our actions with our pledges to adopt ecologically sounder habits. The international community’s leaders vocally promote the sustainable use of natural resources, yet cheer every four years when another city builds duplicative commercial and civil infrastructure. Why invite other cities to replicate these facilities for a one-time mega event at huge cost and attendant social disruption? A paper published by the American Economic Association in August 2016 expressed skepticism about the benefits of hosting the Olympic games, proffering that, “Increasingly, it seems like cities in liberal democracies are not willing to bid for the games….” The international spectacle is not worth the local burden.

But the games needn’t devolve into something so cynical. This environmental pragmatism is also philosophically satisfying. Thoughtfully enveloping ourselves in the best of what we associate with classical Athens gives us an opening to change what we have been doing and depoliticize the selection of the host city. Others have pointed out that “corruption is killing the Olympic games.” Designating Athens as the games’ home base promises to minimize the political and commercial daftness that has subverted the Olympic ideals of cooperation, friendship and fair play. Such a decision by the international community to eliminate the Have-Have Not divide might be especially meaningful for those in developing nations who train world-class, medal-winning athletes while knowing they cannot realistically expect to host the Olympics.

If the community of nations is to run to a better future, let’s elect to run in the shadow of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, literally and symbolically. We can choose to conduct our quadrennial competitions in the city that engendered the ideas on which democratic values thrive.

Permanently moving the summer games to Athens would do much good for Greece, much good for Europe, and stands to do a lot of good for the world by repairing the original Olympic ethos.

Glenn Levine is a farmer in Saline, Michigan. He worked as a lawyer in Southeastern Europe and was involved with the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI).

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