Winging from Athens to Skiathos the other day we peeped the 2 km long Schinias Olympic Rowing Center below. Located in an important wetlands and marine environment within the boundaries of the Skinias National Park (“protected” under the Natura 2000 scheme), the construction of the rowing center was controversial. Built hastily (at the site of the Battle of Marathon!) for the Olympic Games, the center hosted the rowing and other aquatic race events in August 2004 (and little else afterwards).
A wikipedia article (with unreliable confirming links) on the park says that the rowing center was rebuilt after the games by the German construction giant Hochtief. True or false we don’t know (yet). Hochtief was also the main contractor for the construction of the new Athens Airport between 1996 and 2004.
Leaving aside for the moment the absurdity of the Olympic Games, we were caught thinking again about the bribes and other dirty money and the worldwide and national construction rackets where government officials and private enterprise come to an agreement on expensive public projects. The “arrangements” for the 2004 Summer Games marked the beginning of the end of the Greek economy. Looking back to those heady days when cash seemed to be everywhere (note Skopelos’s own “Olympic Training” football pitch built with taxpayer money) one must remember that those who always profited the most were construction firms undertaking public projects and the officials who facilitated them.
Another sad irony is that many people doing the actual construction, the heavy physical labor, were south Asian economic refugees hired (illegally) on the cheap. News reports of the several construction site deaths from the Olympic build-up period cited that it was refugee day laborers who were killed on the job. Workplace safety is of little concern if the workforce is made up of many undocumented foreigners being paid a pittance for their contribution to the project.
The construction (over public protest) and subsequent reconstruction of a multimillion white elephant in protected wetlands points out the unhappy disconnect between public money, compliant government officials, industry, and what the public really wants and needs.