Send in the Olympics…and then the IMF!

(Note: By popular local demand this article has been translated to Greek with various extra links to older articles about the Olympics here.)

This is not some conspiracy theory.  My question is simple:  What is the effect of turning a huge global spotlight on a country via the Olympics?

Of course I am thinking of Greece and a recent conversation – for the umpteenth time – about the economic impact.  That isn’t really the point.   Multiple fine economists have studied micro, macro and …malaka economics concerning impact and it is always a pretty grim picture.  But forget all that and please don’t get caught up in whether or not we needed a stadium for baseball.   Or whether they killed all the stray dogs inhumanely or not.

What did the world see of Greece because of the Olympics?  For a couple of years in the run up all you heard of us was pretty grim horror stories.  How bad our economy is, how terrible the workers unions are, how difficult it is to get anything done, how the prime minister had to do it himself… it just went on and on.  A British newspaper would make fun of us, we spiked our backs in indignation but the story stuck.   Greeks are lazy, just like we thought they were, and completely incapable of getting anything done in time.   British, American and German companies have to fly in at the last minute to get it done.

The fact that the Athens Olympics “went well” is beside the point from a communication point of view.   Everyone just assumed (quite rightly) that it is a party that always goes well in the end.   Same crowd, same stars, same music.  There haven’t been any “failed” Olympics because it always comes together in the end.  Nothing to do with the Greeks, it is the organizers that get it done.  One way or another.   We just pay the bill.

So many years of bad news about Greece, then a few weeks of pleasantries.   Then some of you went on holiday here and then the whole circus headed for the next host country.  What was left as an impression?   That Greece is hopeless.   A lost case.   An easy target for any sort of economic speculation…hey, wait a minute, that’s exactly what happened isn’t it?   Greeks think the whole world is against them.   Ancient obsession.   Jews, Germans,Persians, Americans, even aliens have supposedly targeted Greeks as the “chosen” enemy because we are so good!  They are all jealous or something like that.

Well this is the first time it feels like they are right!   Greece was indeed singled out in a pretty unique way.  Both in terms of policies, in the way other countries ganged up against it (or for it, depends on your conspiracy hat) and the media had a field day.   We complain about German media, but what did we expect?  We have been selling the image of lazy Greeks, on lazy islands, with lazy donkeys, sipping ouzo and taking siestas for so long that it would be rather hard to change now!  

The Olympics aren’t to blame for the Greek financial crisis.   And conspiracy theorists are wrong:  these things aren’t preplanned by some evil Genius or ten ultra rich people.  But the way the Olympics shone a light on all of our weaknesses helped Greece take the scapegoat position a lot more easily than it would have otherwise.    Selling unusually harsh measures needs a strong story to work on.   And a corrupt and lazy country, incapable of organising the Games is a pretty good start in building a global negative myth to get that sort of story off the ground…

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