April 04, 2020

Host city still a work in progress

University of Maine business professor John Mahon lived in Athens, Greece, for three years in the 1970s. When he returned for a visit last month he was pleased to see the city had built an underground subway system.

But the system doesn’t really help spectators in the country to watch the Olympic Games, Mahon said, because the subway lines don’t go directly to the sites.

“It’s a wonderful system,” he said. “You can take the metro around town and that’s absolutely delightful but you can’t take the metro to many of the Olympic sites. You can walk, I suppose, or take a cab. But that’s interesting. Are there enough cabs?”

That’s just one of the Olympic transportation questions and organizational problems Mahon observed during a four-day trip to the city in mid-July.

Several Olympic events have already started, but the opening ceremony for the Athens Games is being held today.

Mahon, the John M. Murphy Chair of International Business Policy and Strategy, was in Greece attending a conference put on by the Business and Economics Society International. The conference took place on the island of Rhodes.

Mahon took a four-day side trip to Athens, where he lived from 1972-75.

He was just a casual observer there, but his observations echo what others have seen and heard: There was plenty of construction still going on and plenty of tickets available.

“What is amazing is there are so many things that aren’t done yet,” Mahon said. “It’s not like, just one or two items. It’s not like they have one more thing to do and this venue will be complete. There were dozens of things left to be done.”

Mahon witnessed firsthand construction still being done on the sailing and gymnastics venues. Another stadium in the Athens suburb of Piraeus was also unfinished, he added.

Athens officials have said the venues are ready to go but published reports cite examples of electrical work yet to be completed and seats that still have to be installed at some venues.

Transportation also could be a nightmare, Mahon said, in part because a new trolley system that runs along the coast of Athens hasn’t been fully tested yet.

“They hope it will be able to handle the crowds,” he said. “But when they first ran it tons of people went on it and they almost overloaded the system.”

According to the official Athens Olympics Web site, an Olympic bus network of 22 lines will connect Athens and Piraeus to the Olympic venues.

There’s also the hint of labor problems in Athens. According to published reports in late July, ambulance drivers, paramedics and hotel workers all announced “warning” work-stoppages to demand the same kind of Olympic bonuses the government gave to police and security personnel.

“You suddenly have the hand being put out,” Mahon said. “[Greek government officials] raised an interesting problem for themselves that’s going to raise the cost of delivering the Olympics.”

And if you’re thinking about a last-minute trip to Greece, there are apparently still plenty of tickets available. Mahon said he saw the sailing events selling out, but there were plenty of tickets left for the opening and closing ceremonies and popular events like gymnastics and track and field.

During a news briefing Tuesday, Athens officials said 2.5 million of 5.4 million available tickets had been sold. Tickets are sold out for most of the event finals, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

The cost of the Athens Games was discussed during one session of the Rhodes conference. Mahon heard some startling numbers there.

“They say Athens is going to be paying for this Olympics for 10 more years,” he said. “They’re hoping to get a big jolt out of it in terms of tourism.”

But it’s not just Athens. The traffic and organizational headaches in any Olympic host city would make Mahon want to stay away.

“The last city I would want to be on the face of the Earth when the Olympics were occurring [is a host city] because it is a nightmare, no matter what the city is,” he said. “It is equally a nightmare here.”

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