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Can the Return of the Olympic Games to Greece inspire a Return to Nature?


Nairobi/Athens, 10 August 2004 - When the XXVIIIth Olympiad opens in Athens this week global attention will focus not just on the performance of the athletes, but on the organizers as well.

In recent years the environment has gained increased prominence within the Olympic Movement. It is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the third dimension of Olympism, alongside sport and culture. Environmental issues are now an important part of the review process of Olympic bids.

"The return of the Olympic Games to Athens, where they originated some 2000 years ago, has sparked renewed interest in the historic reality of the competition," said Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "Respect for nature was a feature of ancient Greek civilization."

"In those early Games victors were crowned with an olive wreath. The olive wreath remains as an Olympic symbol to this day, a reminder of the precious link between humankind and the natural environment that we must learn to better preserve and cherish," he said.

As part of its Sport and the Environment Programme, UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Athens 2004 Olympic Organizing Committee (ATHOC) on 3 June 2004 to implement a series of public awareness activities.

An anti-littering campaign, co-signed by UNEP and ATHOC, is currently being broadcast on Greek television and will continue in various forms throughout the Games. Brochures will be distributed at all venues to underline the connection between sport and the environment.

ATHOC has also agreed to prepare a compilation of 'Environmental Challenges and Achievements' of the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will offer a detailed account of the environmental perspective of all aspects of the Games - including specific assessments for the various venues.

"It is important that the 2004 Games set the stage for a wider discussion on the comprehensive integration of environmental considerations in future Games," Mr. Toepfer said. "It is my hope that these assessments will be a valuable tool for other host cities of the Olympic Games. The Games in Athens should spur efforts by other countries to do more to ensure that their Games are organized in an environmentally friendly way so that the environment is indeed seen as the third pillar of Olympism."

"Environmental considerations are a major component of the development of facilities and the organization of major sports events," said Mr. Toepfer. "The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games were a significant step towards a new era of green Games. Sydney's environmental performance achieved new standards in the organization of mega-sport events and demonstrated that we can and should be environmentally responsible while undertaking such projects."

UNEP is also working with the Athens Environmental Foundation (AEF), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Greece and the United States, on a variety of awareness and education programmes related to sport and the environment for the 2004 Olympic Games.

Several public service announcements (PSAs) with environmental awareness messages have been shown on Greek television and the new Athens Metro, and at the Athens International Airport and the Goulandri Natural History Museum. All the PSAs have been co-signed by ATHOC, UNEP and AEF.

As part of an 'environmental leg' of the Olympic Torch Relay, supported by ATHOC, UNEP's Director of Communications, Eric Falt, will carry the Olympic Flame on 12 August, alongside Jean-Michel Cousteau, world-renowned marine explorer and President of Ocean Futures Society, and Tony Diamantidis, AEF Executive Director.

During the run-up to the Athens Games UNEP kept in close contact with the organizers and with Greek NGOs, many of whom have been critical of the Athens 2004 environmental record.

While it is generally accepted that the Games will contribute towards the improvement of the transport network and coastal areas in and around Athens and promote public awareness on key environmental issues, the NGOs have maintained that areas such as energy consumption and the building of eco-friendly facilities have fallen below expectations.

"With hindsight, better communication between the organizers and key stakeholders, particularly environmental NGOs, would have provided valuable input to the preparation and hosting of the Games," Mr. Toepfer said.

UNEP News Release 2004/37

For more information, please contact Eric Falt Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, tel: (0) 733 682656, 1-917-434.9338; or through the Hilton Hotel, Athens, tel: 210-728.1000; e-mail: Eric.falt@unep.org. Alternatively, contact Theodore Oben, Head of UNEP's Sport and Environment Unit, tel: (0)20 623262; e-mail: Theodore.oben@unep.org.

UNEP, Sport and the Environment

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