A new Olympiad for Greece

Amid preparations for a US boycott of the Moscow Olympic games, President Carter has added his voice to those advocating moving the permanent site of the summer games to Greece, their ancient birthplace and home.

This is a proposal which makes much sense. Greek Prime Minister Constantine Caramanlis first made it in 1976 during the Montreal Olympics. He has now renewed it, as he inaugurated a partly finished new stadium and surrounding Olympic village outside Athens.

Mr. Caramanlis's idea, now seconded by President Carter, has been welcomed by Greeks of all political persuasions. They see it as lifting the games out of a morass of politics and commercialism affecting them since Montreal, where professionalism became an issue, and Munich in 1972, where Palestinians murdered Israeli athletes.

When the torch of the first recorded Olympic games was lit at Olympia, Greece , in 776 BC, their purpose was a religious celebration as well as the enobling pursuit of athletics. Now, in 1980, in Mr. Caramanlis's words, "thoughts are turning again to the injection of politics into the Olympic games.

"We disapprove," he adds, "of such thoughts, just as we condemn the invasion of Afghanistan. The first threatens an eternal, civilizing, and peaceful institution; the second threatens peace. To preserve the Olympic idea we must rid the games of politics and commercialism. And that is precisely why Greece has decided to renew its proposal to the international Olympic authorities."

Helen Vlachos, the Athens publisher who in exile in 1967-74 kept the flame of Greek democracy burning during the dictatorship, asked last summer: "Why not build a new Olympia? . . . An airstrip would tie new Olympia with all the world , welcoming all races, colors, and creeds, wholly democratic, and free, as much as possible, from today's invading commercialism."

Actually, the new Olympia already exists, and Greeks are building it. It is rising, not on the site of the old Olympia where the games began, but just outside Athens.The Greek Government is building it -- and so sparing Los Angeles or some other city the agonizing question of whether it can afford to host the 1988 or 1992 summer games.

Greece's new Olympic stadium is located in the outer Athens suburb of Kalogreza. Nearby, green pine woods renew and refresh the air of the traffic-polluted inner city. The matchless light of the sky of Attica, Athens' home province, provides perpetual illumination.

The stadium and much of its infrastructure is due to be ready by the summer of 1982. Its planning, assigned to West German consultants, calls for an arena many times the size of the original Olympic stadium built in central Athens for the first modern Olympics of 1896, used again in 1932, but far too small today.

The basic core of what by the end of the 1980s should be a complete Olympic village is costing the Greek taxpayer upwards of $200 million. The stadium, for 80,000 persons, is sunk 35 feet below ground level. The Olympic village area of about 243 acres will hold everything from training and warm-up facilities for the athletes to elaborate news media and VIP facilities.

Greek Ambassador to the US Tzounis says he believes that the entire complex, an immense effort in design and construction, will be ready in plenty of time for the 1996 Olympics, the centennial of the first modern Olympiad held in Greece. The pan-European games, scheduled for Athens in 1982, will give the facilities their first use and may prove to optimists that they are right in assuming an earlier Olympic year than 1996.

The first recorded games, in 776 BC, gave Greece the first Olympic champion: one Coroebus of Elis, an athletically inclined cook who won the sprint race, or dromos. Other races, cross country, the pentathlon (long jump, javelin and discus throws, foot races, and wrestling), boxing, chariot races, and boys' events (the ancient games were restricted to male athletes) were added later.

Before Roman colonialism, in the person of Roman Emperor Theodosius, abolished the games as subversive in 394 AD, they (like the modern Olympics) had progressed from simple prizes of a garland or a wreath to the near frontiers of professionalism, with big prizes in kind or in purses of gold.

A young Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the games in the 1890s, beginning the four-year cycles of the new Olympiad, with a Greek, Dimitrios Vikelas, as first president of the International Olympic Committee. Now, in the 1980s, Greece has good reason, in Prime Minister Caramanlis's words, "to make sure that the Olympic games, as a bright symbol of peaceful competition and coexistence, are not allowed to be weakened. We Greeks have a duty to our country and to the whole world to fight hard for the survival of the Olympic games."

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