Wanted: a home for the 'herd of white elephants' left by Athens Olympics

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The Independent Online

Seven months after the closing ceremony of the Athens Olympics, Greece has unveiled its blueprint for the future use of the venues, ruling out any sell-offs and ignoring calls to hand them over to the public.

Seven months after the closing ceremony of the Athens Olympics, Greece has unveiled its blueprint for the future use of the venues, ruling out any sell-offs and ignoring calls to hand them over to the public.

After spending nearly £8bn on staging the Games, Greeks have become increasingly impatient that their costly new stadiums are standing empty, earning them the title the "herd of white elephants".

The Olympics, which were hailed as a "magical games" by Jacques Rogge, the international Olympic committee president, havebecome a nightmare for the smallest country to stage the event since Finland in the 1950s.

With a soaring public debt and public admissions of irresponsible spending during a period of preparation littered with delays and last-minute panics, many Greeks are disillusioned with the legacy of the "homecoming Olympics".

The Greek Culture minister, Fani Palli-Petralia, said: "The time has come for the gigantic financial investment made for the Olympic Games to pay off a 'capital gains' reward for the Greek people.

"Our policy for the exploitation of these facilities will be to ensure that the money paid by the taxpayer is not lost," she insisted as she presented the bill at the main Olympic Stadium complex.

The bill, which still has to make its way through a partisan parliament, will allow cultural centres, restaurants and shops to use the grounds of the Olympic sites.

However, the new plans were critically short on specifics about exactly how, when and by whom the sites would be used. An 18-hole golf course and a heliport at the equestrian centre and a marina and five-star hotel at the yachting complex represented the only solid proposals.

Mrs Palli-Petralia said the government had held talks with several interested domestic and foreign investors about use of the venues, but did not give any more details.

She was adamant, however, that the sites would remain in the hands of the state. "Nothing is for sale, and nothing will be sold," she said.

The government insisted that foreign and home-grown investors were queuing up to bid for leases, but have so far refused to reveal the details.

The venues, which include a specialist Taekwondo stadium and a £90m rowing centre, both under lock and key since September, will cost £50m a year just to maintain. Greek Olympic organisers deliberately sited many of the venues in run-down areas, claiming their presence would lead to urban renewal. But no firm plans have ever been in place on what to do with them.

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