An Olympic Homecoming: In 2021, IOC Session Returns to Athens, Where Olympic Legacy Stands Tall
The Olympic Games Athens 2004 were considered a “homecoming”: Greece was the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games and host of the inaugural Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896. Despite challenges related to the post-Games use of some of the Olympic venues, the Games did not disappoint their hosts: they created wide-ranging benefits, which the Greek capital enjoys to this day.
As the IOC returns to Athens for its 2021 Session, let’s take a closer look at the legacy that the Olympic Games Athens 2004 created for the city and its people.
Improvements to the city’s tourism infrastructure in the lead-up to Athens 2004 proved to be beneficial for the city in the long run. Revamped hotels, cultural sites and open areas reinvigorated Athens, boosting the tourism industry, which is a key contributor to Greece’s national revenue. A 2008 study by the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Company and Tourism Research and Study Centre of the University of the Aegean reported a post-Athens 2004 growth in tourism, following a decline in previous years. By 2007, full hotel bookings in Athens municipality reached 60.3 per cent, surpassing those of previous years.
Visitor numbers have continued to rise. In 2003, 12 million tourists visited the country; while in 2015, the Bank of Greece figures pointed to around 23.5 million visitors. Improved infrastructure and increased quality of accommodation have contributed to this trend, in association with the global visibility given to the city during the Games.
The Olympic Games helped accelerate key infrastructure programmes in Athens, including the expansion of the Athens transport system. Approximately 140km of road facilities were constructed to relieve traffic congestion in the city; and much of Attica Road – a modern motorway of 67km passing through 30 municipalities of Attica, the metropolitan area of Athens – was renewed and repaired.
A modern railway system was inaugurated, and the Athens metro system was expanded. This reduced traffic congestion and air pollution, improving the quality of life of local citizens. It has been estimated that the metro has reduced the daily number of cars in the city centre by 70,000.
Athens used the momentum created by the Olympic Games to make significant steps towards environmental protection.
The regeneration of the Phaliron Waterfront represents one of the most important urban regeneration projects in Greece. It combined efficient waste management, revitalisation of destroyed habitats, streams and water quality control and the expansion of vegetation.
In addition, more than 2,000 city buses were replaced by buses running on environmentally friendly fuels. A decade and a half after the Games, Athens has a fleet of 614 buses that run on compressed natural gas and 366 electric trolleys.
Out of the 24 new sports venues built for the Olympic Games Athens 2004, 17 remain in use. The upgrading of the Olympic Stadium ensured it remained in regular use after the Games. The venue has since been home to Greek Super League football team AEK Athens and the Greek national team. It also hosts track and field competitions, as well as music concerts. The Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall, which was purpose-built for the Olympic Games weightlifting competition, is currently used by the University of Piraeu as a lecture hall and conference centre.
Another Olympic venue, the Ano Liosisa Olympic Arena, hosts martial arts events and is home to the Hellenic Academy of Culture and Digital Archive. The Kosmas sailing centre functions as a private marina, while the Athens 2004 Main Press Centre houses the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity of Greece. The Goudi Olympic Complex, which hosted modern pentathlon and badminton competitions in 2004, was transformed into Greece’s biggest theatre.
The Olympic and media villages were sold off as private residencies, and the Phaleron sports pavilion became a convention centre. The Karaiskaki Stadium, which was re-built for the Games, is home to Greece’s most decorated football club, Olympiacos.
Seven Olympic venues have not fared well, particularly in the Hellinikon Complex, which was built within the wider redevelopment area of the former Athens airport. Failure to advance the overall development project has meant that, aside from the sporadic use of the Indoor Arena and the conversion of the Baseball Stadium to host football matches in 2007, the other five venues in this complex remain unused. Two other venues also remain with no use, namely the Galatsi Olympic Hall and the Phaleron Olympic Beach Volleyball stadium.
The Athens 2004 Olympic Education Programme was one of the most innovative legacies of the Games. It linked Greek schools to the local community and its institutions and promoted the cultural integration of the world’s nations. More than 100 international scholars and researchers from various fields collaborated with the Ministry of Education to compile the programme, thanks to the cooperation between the European Union, the IOC and the Organising Committee for the Olympic Winter Games Turin 2006.