Support the Athens Olympics

The good news about the summer Olympic Games, set to return to their original and ancient home here in Greece in the summer of 2004, is that they are on track.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Jacques Rogge, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, have reaffirmed that the Games cannot and will not be moved away from Athens. And both Secretary Powell and Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to Greece, have expressed their total confidence in Greece's ability to ensure the security of the Games.

Somewhat less good news is what appears to many top government officials here as attempts to pressure the International Olympic Committee to remove the Games from Athens, either to Seoul or Los Angeles.

A reason being cited by one commentator in these columns and elsewhere recently is that shadowy terrorist groups would seriously threaten the Games. Wayne Merry, a former US Embassy officer in Athens, has gone so far as to suggest that the US not certify Athens as safe - which would lead the US to boycott the 2004 Olympics - unless the terrorist gang "Revolutionary Organization of November 17" is first neutralized by Greek authorities.

Further, a freelance Greek journalist who recently left Greece has alleged in a US newsmagazine that International Olympic Committee chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch is determined, for security and political reasons, to move the Games to Seoul, and that he might expect a Nobel Peace Prize and its accompanying check for nearly $1 million as a reward. This charge, as well as being absurd and contradicting official IOC pronouncements, may quite possibly be legally actionable for libel, if Mr. Samaranch chooses to pursue it.

It is certainly true that US officials, including CIA Director George Tenet, (himself a Greek-American) have spoken of the Olympics here as "a major vulnerability," as Mr. Tenet put it.

But it is equally true that Prime Minister Costas Simitis's government is now working closely on Olympic security with the governments of the US, Australia, Spain, France, and Israel, which tragically lost some of its best athletes to terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics. All of these nations have experienced either terrorist threats or actual attacks, or both, during international athletic events, including the Atlanta and Barcelona Olympics.

The Simitis government and the Athens Olympic Committee are already working to implement a comprehensive security plan with top experts from the US and Britain.

The FBI has long worked with Greece to break and capture the elusive November 17. The group has never been brought to justice, despite 22 murders and many other terrorist acts since killing the Athens CIA station chief Richard Welch in 1975.

Equally, British, Israeli, Australian, French, and Spanish experts are part of a hugely ambitious protection plan. It will involve all of Greece's police, security, and armed forces, including its Navy and Coast Guard.

The United States should be lending all the support and encouragement it can to their success. Where possible, the US should be assisting in the timely accomplishment of some projects, such as the new Olympic Village and housing projects for the athletes, some of which are behind schedule.

Americans should recall the color and panache of the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. The US team competed and distinguished itself amid the overwhelming hospitality of Greece.

As the Atlantic Monthly magazine recalled back in December 1956, the Boston Athletic Association sent a team of seven track athletes and a coach. Princeton University's athletes were also represented.

That first Olympiad of the modern era, conceived and activated by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, unfolded in one of the stadiums to be used in 2004, built of Greek marble and seating 75,000.

The US team triumphed in the high hurdles and in the supremely Hellenic event of the discus throw.

Greek pride and patriotism were rescued by a Hellenic victory in the marathon, commemorating the historic run of Pheidippides, who 2-1/2 millennia ago won glory by bringing the news of victory over the Persian invaders from Marathon to Athens.

Greeks, including the successful businesswoman Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, who heads the Athens Olympic Committee, have dedicated much time and treasure to winning the 2004 Games for Athens and making them a success. They deserve all possible support from everyone in the world who believes in the sporting and ethical ideals represented by the Olympic flame.

John K. Cooley, an American author, was a Monitor staff correspondent from 1965 to 1980. He reports for ABC News from Athens.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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