International Socialist Review Issue 37, SeptemberOctober 2004
NEWS AND REPORTS
Paid for in Blood
By DAVE ZIRIN
YOU KNOW its Olympic season in the USA because Playboy has unleashed its "Women of the Summer Games" issue, where world-class female athletes are seen performing pole vaults, long jumps, and backstrokes, completely in the air-brushed buff. Swimmer and photo subject Holly Cope accompanied her display with this inspiring message to young girls across America: "I vote Republican, I worship Martha Stewart and I dont mind being naked."
We are also getting bombarded with stories about how Athens is "a city transformed" by the Olympic Midas touch. As International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge put it, "At Athens the legacy will be a new airport, new metro, new suburban train. This is a legacy the Greeks will be proud of."
But dont let the gold, silver, or soft-core sexism fool you: These Greek Olympics arrive bathed from head to toe in blood and dust.
You wont hear about it in NBCs gauzy coverage, but estimates range that as many as 150 construction workers died in workplace accidents building Olympic facilities. The new center-right government of Costas Karamanlis, terrified of international embarrassment for not having a modernized infrastructure, turned the screws to finish facilities by any means necessary. In the last week of round-the-clock preparation alone, thirteen laborers were killed at the service of making Athens, in the words of one Olympic official, "habitable for a global audience."
As Andreas Zazopoulos, head of the Greek Construction Workers Union said, "We have paid for the Olympic games in blood."
Their deaths arent the only cause of local anger. The Karamanlis government has scuttled Greek law forbidding foreign personnel from carrying weapons in the country by allowing hundredsperhaps thousandsof American, British, and Israeli Special Forces soldiers to be armed to the teeth throughout Athens.
City authorities are also, according to Democracy Now, "rounding up homeless people, drug addicts, and the mentally ill requiring that psychiatric hospitals lock them up. Also affected by Athens Olympic clean-up are refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom are being targeted for detention and deportation in the days leading up to the games."
But none of this is going unchallenged. There is a growing movement of those sickened by Olympic fever. On Tuesday, five hundred people, amid an atmosphere of tremendous repression, rallied on behalf of the dead, and olive wreaths were placed on thirteen crosses planted in the earth outside Greeces parliament.
Inmates of Korydallos Prison and five other prisons have protested against the governments security decision to stop authorizing parole during the games.
There is also a Greece-based organization with the name, "Revolutionary Struggle" that has been setting bombs in uninhabited buildings. They released the following statement after blowing up an empty police station: "With regard to the Olympic games we say that Greeces transformation into a fortress, NATOs involvement, the presence and activities of foreign intelligence units show clearly that (the Olympics) are not a festival like Games organizers say, but its a war."
They are absolutely right. We know it is a war because there are casualties. One hundred and fifty hard-working people are dead. They died so world dignitaries and CEOs could bask in the light of athletic achievement not unlike the rulers of the Greek and Roman Empires of old. The only difference between Bill Gates and Caligula is that Caligula threw better parties.
Just like the dissidents slaughtered before Hitlers 1936 Olympics in Berlin, or the protesting students massacred before the 1968 games in Mexico City, or those who died in Daryl Gates police custody in the lead up to the 1984 Los Angeles games, they have joined the ranks of the Olympic martyrs.
May their blood forever stain every flag thats unfurled in Athens.
Dave Zirin is news editor of Prince Georges Post, for which he writes the weekly column, "Edge of Sports." His forthcoming book, "Whats My Name Fool?" Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books) is due out in Spring 2005. His columns can be read at http://www.edgeofsports.com. Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.