Spyros Capralos (ATR)
(ATR) The president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee tells Around the Rings
that a full team with medal contenders will go to the London Olympics, despite the financial crisis in Greece.
In this Tuesday Talk, HOC President Spyros Capralos speaks to ATR
Editor Ed Hula about the challenges created by the financial situation, whether the 2004 Olympics contributed to the morass and his hopes for the future.
Capralos, recruited from the private sector to help run the Athens Olympics, moved on from the Games to become president of the Athens Stock Exchange. Since 2011 he has been president and CEO of Star Bulk, a shipping company.
Around the Rings: The overall situation in Greece has not been the best, whether for Olympic athletes, for the Hellenic Olympic Committee. What’s been the result or impact of the bailout that was reached last month?
Well to start with, the financial crisis had created a serious impact on Greek sports. The Greek state has reduced its spending on sports, not just last [month] but for the last couple of years now, the money coming to sport has been less and less. The Hellenic Olympic Committee that gets it budget from the state has seen its budget been reduced at half. And also there was a special subsidy being given for the preparations of the Olympic athletes and that was completely cut back in 2009. In 2009 we got the funds for Olympic preparations but 2010, 2011 and I guess this year it is going to be zero.
ATR: How much money was that before?
Well I don’t know before 2004 because that was also a lot of money being given for the preparations but that was for obvious reasons the games were in Athens. But for the Beijing games the Olympic committee had in total 30 million Euros for the four year period and that was the agreement we had made with the government for the four years from 2009 to 2012. We got the first 8 million for 2009 but since then we’ve got zero.
ATR: What does that mean for athletes?
That means we were getting the money and giving it to the federations depending on the criteria we had for the number of athletes on the pre-Olympic team as we call it. We did not stop funding the federations because we had set on the side a sponsors program and that’s how we managed to fund the federations. But of course we learned it’s nowhere amount of money and of course, that has an impact to the athletes.
But also what was playing a negative role is the fact that some of the sport facilities where they use to go and train, they are out of oil, they are out of personnel, they are out of maintenance, which means that it makes their life much more difficult. For example, in Athens many of the swimming pools are closed and only the pool run by the Olympic committee is open and that helps the athletes of the water polo teams as well as long distance swimmers who are Olympic hopefuls for London.
ATR: So it’s a difficult situation right now...
It is a difficult situation. Of course it’s very difficult, but on the other hand the money that we manage to get from sponsors, all of it is going towards the preparations of the athletes, something that permitted many of the athletes to go to trips and qualify for the Olympics.
For example the sailing team went to Australia fully funded by the Olympic committee. Same has happened with the water polo teams of men and women who went to the European championship. And many other sports gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, have managed to qualify, so there’s a lot of help from the Hellenic Olympic Committee.
ATR: It sounds like you couldn’t do this without the help of sponsors
No, no, no. There was no way we would have done it because the Greek state does not even fund the salaries of the people working the Hellenic Olympic Committee, so you can imagine for Olympic preparation.
ATR: Who are the big sponsors who are helping out can you name some of them?
Sure I can name them and I can thank them. It’s the lottery company that signed a contract for 2011 and 2012 –OPAP. We have Adidas for their sport equipment. We have BMW, we have Procter and Gamble. We have Samsung. We have Olympic Air and we have some smaller sponsors.
ATR: And what will this mean for the team that you send to London? Will you be able to send a full strength team or have you been forced to look at making a smaller team?
First of all we have committed that all the athletes who qualify for London will go to London. Second, we think that even though the team will be smaller compared to the one in Beijing, because in Beijing we had many athletes in athletics who had gone there despite not having met IAAF criteria. Now the team is going to be smaller but overall I think we’ll end up having more medals than what we had in Beijing.
Capralos, far right, on a tour of Venues for the Athens Olympics with the Prime Minister of Greece and other Athens 2004 leaders. (ATR)
ATR: And how large of a team do you think you’ll send to London?
It depends on the team sports that we manage to qualify we still have qualifications for three team sports men’s and women’s water polo as well as men’s basketball if we qualify in those three team sports than the team will be over 100 athletes.
ATR: Despite the financial difficulties you say you hope to win more medals in London then you did win in Beijing
That’s right, because I think that some of the athletes, despite the difficulties, have done a lot of work and they are committed and I think at the end of the day the end result is going to be positive.
We have had some strong legacies in rowing after the Athens Olympic Games. We have a very good coach and the federation has done an extremely good work so I think in rowing were aiming for two or three medals. But also we’re aiming for medals in other sports like long distance swimming, like judo, like gymnastics and I think the women’s water polo team that was world champion will also have chances of making it to a medal.
ATR: Now this difficulty is all coming some years after Athens held the Olympic Games. How much impact have the Athens Olympics had on developing the team and is there a legacy from the Athens Olympics that’s still helping you?
Well I think that a lot of the sport is moving ahead having positive impact from the Athens Olympic Games. Of course the athletes are new. Most of the athletes who competed in Athens are not any more competing. The team is completely new but I think that overall the positive momentum that the Athens Games brought to Greece is now being brought to the athletes that compete now today.
Of course there’s a lot of criticism about some of the sport facilities that are not being utilized today still eight years after the Games. But I think this is one of the criticisms of the Athens Games.
On the other side, every Athenian uses on a daily basis infrastructure that was created for the Games, the new roads, the new metros, all the telecommunication and energy infrastructure that improved the life of the city. And overall, I think that without the Athens Olympic Games we wouldn’t have had such huge projects and infrastructure that changed our everyday life.
ATR: What will happen do you think will happen to the venues that are not being used like they should be today? What is the future for those venues under the current economic situation?
Well I think that there are no secrets some of these venues need to be used in a different way than what they were constructed for. We cannot continue paying and maintaining facilities for some sports that are not popular in Greece and therefore I think they should be transformed over to something probably outside sport.
ATR: And how much blame should be given to the amount of money spent on the Athens Olympics for the economic situation Greece finds itself in right now?
The easy person to blame has to do with the Olympic Games because there is nobody there to defend them. When one looks at the finances of the Games, one can see that the total cost including infrastructure including innovation including the construction of the venues was less than 10 billion Euros. And you see today’s external debt is close to 400 billion. You see that it’s very small to blame the Athens Olympic Games.
ATR: That’s a drop in the bucket when you compare it with that big number there.
Of course if you say 10 billion dollars to 400 it’s two and a half percent.
ATR: Moving forward, have you had to for example lay off staff at the Hellenic Olympic Committee, how’s the Olympic Committee fairing under all of this?
Well moving forward we cannot lay off people but we let people go by natural attrition. We do not replace them but moving forward I think it’s going to become more and more difficult for Greek sport. I think that the facilities will not be there and the athletes will have a hard time and they will have to rely on their own sources, something very difficult in today’s world.
Athens Olympic Stadium during the final days of the Games. (ATR)
I think that looking forward it’s gloomy for Greek sport, like it’s gloomy for the rest of the economy and the country.
ATR: And where do you see it changing? I mean you’re very much involved in the private sector, the business side of life in Greece, how do you see the economy improving one day?
Well the private sector is also struggling, trying to remain alive. We are laying off people. We are reducing salaries, we are trying to make sure we survive in this big crisis right now. I think that unless we manage to cut the government spending in the public sector we will not be able to survive.
But if we manage to do that I think the next stage will be the development stage. We need investment coming from outside Greece. And I think that Greeks are hardworking people and will be able to make things change.
Conducted by Ed Hula. Transcribed by Evan Owens .
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