Richard North, 10/08/2004  

A lot of people might disagree with that statement. The Olympics will be a major national headache and will allow their deficit soar beyond anything imagined in any other country in the eurozone. They are going to have to put up with NATO troops parading around the place, guarding athletes, audience, VIPs, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. It is not quite clear how much of the necessary building work has actually been done. But never mind, the Olympics are “coming home”.

Whether it is entirely accurate to describe modern Greece as being the direct descendant of the ancient Greek city states is a moot point. Let them have their hour of glory.

However, there is a special reason why the Greeks can be said to be having fun. They are banning one sports minister after another from attending the Games. It seems that various countries have decided to reward some of their nastier security apparatchiks and heavies by giving them the sports portfolio. (It used to be youth in the late unlamented Soviet Union. What happened to that idea?)

Under pressure from the EU, the Greek government has banned Yuri Sivakov, Sports Minister of Belarus – he had been named by the Council of Europe as one of the key participants in the disappearance of opposition politicians. Belarus protested, then said that Mr Sivakov was already in Athens, anyway. The story seems to have quietened down, with the Greeks and the EU holding their own for the time being.

Now comes news that Greece has banned Myanmar's Brigadier General Thura Aye Myint and Zimbabwe's Aeneas Chigwedere. As members of Myanmar’s and Zimbabwe’s governments, these two are already banned from entering the European Union, because of the human rights record in their countries. As the Olympic Games are not taking place in France, President Chirac seems to have gone along with the decision.

What with the Bulgarian representative on the Olympic Committee being forced to resign because of accusations of corruption on the BBC’s Panorama programme and drug stories emerging even before the flame reaches Athens, these Games are likely to be quite exciting. The sport might be quite good, too.

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