Divas sharpen claws in struggle for spotlight

Inside Lines
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The Independent Online

Dateline: Athens

The Olympic Games have turned the full five circles since they first began here almost 3,000 years ago. Then women were barred from competing, or even watching the naked athletes – upon pain of death. Now they seem to be running the whole Athens 2004 show. More than half the staff of the dynamic Gianna Angelopoulos, the first woman to head a Games organising committee, are women. She initially secured, and is now credited with saving, the Olympics after the dramatic about turn by the International Olympic Committee this weekend. A stunning beauty, multi-linguist and millionairess mother of three, she has become the pivotal figure of the Games but when they open in August 2004 she is likely to be one of a duet of divas sharing the spotlight. Dora Bakoyianni, the daughter of a former prime minister, is set to become Athens' next mayor, a post Angelopoulos is said to have coveted had she not beenon Olympic business. Bakoyianni is a former shadow foreign and defence minister for the New Democratic Party and most believe she is headed for power in the elections. As mayor she will be the official hostess of the Games sharing the platform alongside Angelopoulos at the opening and closing ceremonies. Not unexpectedly, while these two Athenians may share political sympathies – both are on the political right – there is little love lost between them. After getting the Games back on track Angelopoulos is unlikely to take kindly to any grandstanding by Bakoyianni. Perhaps this is one Olympic contest men should be barred from watching.

Athens mascots are no laughing matter

They may look like animated condoms but the twin mascots for the Athens Olympics will, as they say, grow on you. Unveiled last week, Athena and Phevos – the latter being another name for Apollo – represent a mythological brother and sister duo and were inspired by terracotta dolls dating from the seventh century BC. The somewhat sexless siblings are a part of a collection of toy dolls from ancient times which can be seen at the Greek Archaeological Museum in Athens and during the next two years will become a cultural and commercial symbol of the Games. They are certainly the most unusual Olympic mascots since such figures were introduced back in the Sixties. Almost invariably mascots have been cartoon animals, embracing Munich's Dachshund, Los Angeles' eagle, Seoul's tiger, Barcelona's sheepdog and Sydney's trio of an echidna, a platypus and a kookaburra. However, whether Athena and Phevos will captivate the world, as did Moscow's Misha the tear-shedding bear, remains to be seen.

Ref gets the treatment over Beckham tackle

The most popular man in Greece today is the Norwegian referee who awarded Panathinaikos the dodgy penalty which gave them a 1-0 advantage to take into the second leg of their Champions' League quarter-final in Barcelona. The most unpopular is the official who refused to give "Dirty Diego" a red card for causing David Beckham grief in Deportivo. And he is Greek. "An accomplice to the crime," roared one of Athens' seven daily sports newspapers, headlining the performance of Cyros Vassaras, who seems to have blotted his little black book even before he becomes the nation's first ever World Cup referee this summer. "He closed his eyes to the criminal foul on Beckham," declared the report. Upset Manchester United at your peril here where locals are more passionate about the Reds than they are their own teams.

Britain may be unable to get within sniffing distance of staging the Olympic Games this side of the next millennium but if those here go off without a hitch it will be due in no small measure to a little help from Greece's friends, not least those from the United Kingdom.

The biggest headache for Athens 2004 is security, not only in the light of 11 September 2001 but 17 November 2000 when the British military attaché was gunned down by a left-wing group. Greece's European Union status provides easy accessibility and talks with the IOC may result in the introduction of special Olympic visas. The Greek government have budgeted $600m for security and called up experts from Scotland Yard's Special Branch to work alongside Mossad and the CIA. The operation is to be co-ordinated by the British Ambassador in Athens, David Madden, with advice from Sydney's top cop, the British-born Peter Ryan. Let's hope Ryan has better luck than he did with his luggage, which he lost on arrival here last week.

In Greece, sports justice is swift and severe. The president of Panathinaikos FC, Angelos Philippidis, has been suspended for a year following a confrontation with a referee, later beaten up by fans two weeks ago with rivals Olympiakos. The Panathinaikos coach Sergio Markarian also received a 40-day touchline ban and the Olympiakos assistant coach, Tassos Mitropoulos, a six-month ban for saying of Philippidis: "He should go to a women's prison as he will have too much fun with the men." The sentence was handed down by atribunal which is also investigating bribery and match-fixing allegations in Greek football. Its decision is binding and the sports court has powers to call in the public prosecutor.


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