On the spot

Kostas Bakoyannis

Mayor of Athens, Greece

When we think of Athens, we immediately think of “Olympics” and ”Olympism”. Host of the first edition of the Modern Era Olympic Games, Athens also hosted the 2004 Games. What are the legacies left by these two editions of the Games and how does Athens take a forward-looking perspective to build upon these events? 

Due to the way the Games have left their mark on the city itself, it is hard to even consider one without the other. Both games were breakthrough moments that shaped the city and the way it functions. The first edition of the games in 1896 served as the first real introduction of Athens to the world as a modern European capital, a city deeply connected to its roots but at the same time an emerging new epicentre in the south of Europe for sports and recreation. Athens, and the whole of Greece, were reminded of the extraordinary power of the Olympic Games, celebrating a unique sense of sportsmanship that shaped generations of athletes, professionals and amateurs alike. The preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games completely transformed our city, ushering in 21st-century ideals and paving the way for even greater, future changes. Both times, Athens managed to exceed expectations and offer up its own unique version of the Games, always a tribute to our predecessors and their glorious legacy. 

The Olympic Games operate on two parallel levels, one being the actual competition, engrossing, nail-biting and the other being the sacred values and principles of Olympism that are activated, honoured and spread through the games. It is those values of Excellence, Friendship and Respect and the principles of Humanism, of Solidarity of Non-discrimination, of Sustainability that stay with us still and informs all our actions and decisions. Athens carries the legacy of Olympism and the ideas that come with it with great pride and care and will continue to do so, building upon these precious foundations. 

Twenty years ago, Athens and Lausanne founded the World Union of Olympic Cities. A great idea led us to here, twenty years later, with a unique and flourishing organisation! According to you, what has the Association brought (and continues to bring) to Olympic Cities worldwide?  

Hosting the Olympic Games is a momentous opportunity and responsibility. It is a once in a lifetime experience with unique characteristics for each of its phases, before, during and after the games. Each phase has is its own advantages and also challenges, so specific that they can only be truly understood by other host cities.  This is where the Association steps in and facilitates the dialogue between former and future host cities. It acts as a much-needed medium of communication, where cities can share their insight on how to maximise the benefits from their involvement and minimise the risks from possible mismanagement. I am proud to see that, twenty years in, the World Union of Olympic Cities continues effectively bringing host cities together, protecting the legacy of the Olympic Games and I am certain that it will continue to do so in the future with great success. 

As a founding Member, Athens has been part of all of the Union’s journeys and adventures. How would you describe the role and involvement of the City of Athens within the Association? 

Athens joins forces – from the very beginning – with the Union in order to achieve a coordinated and elevated promotion of the Olympic spirit and the Olympic ideals across Europe and worldwide. The city has already shown it can hold major sporting events by hosting the 2004 Olympic Games, the Final Four, the Champions League, the International Children’s Games and the XIII Special Olympics World Summer Games, providing a unique platform to showcase the courage, dedication and talents of all world-class athletes. Last summer we hosted the General Assembly of the European Olympic Cities on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation of this historic association, celebrating their five decades of meaningful and substantial work. Athens, will always be the birthplace of the Olympic Games, with an ancient tradition in sports. Through the brilliance of all events organised, the Union is safeguarding the future of Olympism. Athens can be relied on as a true ally. 

The Union is very pleased to have the opportunity to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Greece and offer its members the possibility of visiting the cradles of both the ancient and the modern Games. As for you, what do on-site visits provide that conferences, presentations, videos, – no matter how good the quality – could never provide? 

We are, also, pleased to welcome the members of the Union to celebrate its 20th anniversary under the Greek sky. On-site visits to the birthplace of the Olympic Games and democracy offer the ability to experience the unique feeling that emerges from the environment with a scale of ancient history that never ceases to astound. It’s so much there to absorb from the coexistence of great culture with astonishing natural beauty, that presentations and videos do not suffice to admire this vivid picture of the splendour, glory and breadth of a civilisation.  Visiting Athens and Olympia will provide the opportunity to feel the spirit of the rich history and the contemporary urban scenery of the sprawling city with the vibrant life at the same time, combined with the Mediterranean climate. 

How does Athens envision the next twenty years with the Association? What are your expectations? And how would like to contribute? 

We envision to keep the flame alive! There is a great number of common challenges that. cities face every day. It is the imperative of every modern city today to improve the quality of life, the local economy, bring about social cohesion, address climate change issues and achieve resilience. In this context, Athens focuses on an evolved type of city diplomacy that utilizes People-to-People partnerships, as a more targeted approach, thus making use of the untapped potential of interpersonal and intercultural contacts. By creating thousands of “City Ambassadors” who will promote our shared culture and Olympic spirit much further than it has been possible until now, we will ensure an on-going dialogue about the continued positive impact of the Games. The outcome of this dialogue will help to inspire common understanding and shared experiences and will serve as the basis which for revitalizing our shared journey.