Athens 2004, the squandered legacy. GETTY IMAGES

Twenty years after the Games were held in the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and the legacy of Athens 2004 falls far short of what was hoped for. Abandoned facilities are a symbol of the great difficulties in dealing with the aftermath of the Games.

Athens 2004 remains vivid in the minds of many because it took the Games back to their origins. The first modern Olympic Games were held on 6 April 1896, when the kings of Greece inaugurated the Games in the 'Spyros Louis' stadium in Athens, inspired by the ancient Greek competitions after 15 centuries. 

Significant sums were spent on infrastructure for the 2004 Games. "It is no secret that Greece spent a lot of money building ultra-modern facilities. After the construction, however, there was no more budget" to ensure the upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure, the official explained in an interview with AFP. 

Hellenic Olympic Committee president Spyros Capralos said that if there was a lesson to be learned from the Athens Olympics, it was that host cities "should not try to build permanent facilities that are no longer useful". 

The legacy of the Athens Games has been squandered, but not everything has been abandoned: some facilities have been turned into shopping centres, a university, a police firing range and a civil protection office.

The Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom Centre at the Helliniko Olympic Complex in Athens. GETTY IMAGES
The Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom Centre at the Helliniko Olympic Complex in Athens. GETTY IMAGES

According to the Greek finance ministry, the Athens Olympics cost 8.5 billion euros, a staggering figure given the economic crisis that has hit and continues to hit the European Union country.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis then claimed that the stadium, which was due to open at the end of April this year, "has not been maintained for two decades". Spyros Capralos also complained about the lack of maintenance: "I've said to every sports minister since they've been in office, 'Please, do some maintenance.'"

Costas Cartalis, one of the Greek state's main supervisors during the 2001-2004 construction period, admitted that "the Games were forgotten, as was the obligation to use the venues. This is a common problem with public infrastructure" in Greece, he told AFP.

Buildings with broken windows, graffiti and rubbish in the facilities that will host the Olympic beach volleyball competitions in Athens are just one example. Another example of abuse was the Olympic Stadium, which hosted prestigious athletics events. The stadium was closed by the government in September 2023 after its 18,000 tonne steel roof failed safety tests.

Phelps began his journey to become the most decorated Olympic athlete in Athens. GETTY IMAGES
Phelps began his journey to become the most decorated Olympic athlete in Athens. GETTY IMAGES

Another stroke of luck was on the Athens coast at Elliniko, where sports facilities that had lain in ruins for years were demolished to make way for a housing project, a casino and a park. 

Twenty years on, the Athens Olympics are remembered for major delays in preparations, changes in plans, personnel changes and corruption trials over "inflated figures". 

In sporting terms, the neglect of facilities that could have been used to promote sport. In fact, the training of future Greek athletes suffered from the lack of financial resources. 

The situation is even worse when you consider that many Greek athletes have had to train abroad because of the lack of good conditions in their home country. In some cases, training equipment is so outdated that athletes risk injury, complains Spyros Capralos. From a social point of view, it is a waste of money that leaves nothing behind when the games are over, or rather a headache. The costly games contributed to the Greek debt crisis that would explode years later.

Another abandoned facility in the Greek capital. GETTY IMAGES
Another abandoned facility in the Greek capital. GETTY IMAGES

"It is fair to say that the 2004 Olympic Games had a weight. Between 2% and 3% of the debt could be attributed to the Games," said Jacques Rogge, then president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in 2011.

According to the national statistics agency ELSAT, the debt increased by more than 71 billion euros between 2000 and 2005. After the Games, it increased by a further €145 billion by 2010.

However, defenders of the Athens Games say that tourism increased due to the visibility of the Games, boosting the industry and generating revenues that are still being felt today. "The increase in tourism is largely due to the visibility associated with the Olympic Games," notes Cartalis, who is backed by the Greek Tourism Federation, which claims that tourist arrivals almost doubled between 2005 and 2017.