London 2012: Greek Olympic officials spend thousands on exclusive club despite country's dire economy


Mark Blunden
Tuesday 31 July 2012 10:00

While Greece continues to suffer from severe economic conditions Olympic officials from the country are spending thousands of pounds on an exclusive private members' club in London.

After Greece received a second eurozone bailout of €130 billion, it is using tens of thousands of euros to cover some of the cost of hiring the entire Carlton Club in St James’s.

In stark contrast to riots seen on the streets of Athens, for one week London’s “oldest, most elite, and most important of all Conservative clubs” is being hired for £150,000 to become the House of Hellenes.

There is £75,000 being contributed by private firms, but most of the balance is topped up with Greek lottery cash, organisers said. Sponsors, politicians and officials will mingle with athletes at the club where signature dishes include Dover sole and chateaubriand.

Organisers want to promote “Greece’s culture, history, political and economic developments”.

The club is usually home to Conservative party members but is closed for a month in the summer. Greece’s sports federations, from synchronised swimming to athletics and shooting have all been affected by budget cuts and there were fears some of the squad would have to pull  out of London. The Hellenic Swimming Federation made a cut of nearly 40 per cent to the Olympic squad and the professional water polo body warned last year that athletes were quitting sport because they no longer received public funding.

The British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, which is running the event, said it hoped to attract foreign investment “to entertain guests and promote the reconstruction of the Greek economy”.

The House of Hellenes opened at the weekend and will be open from 11am to 11pm until Friday. Some of the money was provided by the Greek Organisation of Football Prognostics, the part-state owned lottery company.

The Greek embassy in London said the reason the Carlton Club was booked was that it was the only venue available at such short notice following the election of the new government. The first choice apparently would have been the more modestly priced Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, available from £1,800 a day.

Harris Ikonomopoulos, British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce Greek president, said: “It was the duty of the private sector to organise and host the national Olympic home even for only a part of the Games.

“Greece is not only the cradle of Olympism and democracy but also the mother of pan-European ideals. Carlton Club is a landmark location and an important site where many critical decisions were taken which were instrumental for the formation of the modern Greek state in the 19th century.”

But today an ex-pat Greek living in London said officials should be “setting a more modest example”.

Spyro Van Leemnen, 28, from Hackney, and member of the Standard’s mayoral election panel, said: “It’s another lavish project put together by Greek millionaires and bureaucrats that only aims to boost their own egos.

“Now Greek families are left to pay for the bloated bill. I came back from Greece three days ago and the situation for the people there is unbearable.

“Half of the young population are unemployed and even the ones with jobs hardly earn 400 euros a month. Even children are refused medication and vital treatment in public hospitals due to the cuts.”

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