Greece promised to make Athens 2004 the greenest Olympics ever, but environmental groups have already given the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee (ATHOC) failing grades when it comes to protecting nature.
The Schinias wetlands are a source of controversy
Athens won't be winning any green medals for its performance at the Olympics, according to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Greenpeace. Its report called "How Green are the Games" states that "green energy is the most striking failure for the Athens Olympics."
"For a country that markets itself as a country of endless sunshine, solar energy for the Games shouldn't be so difficult. But green energy at the Games is close to zero," the Greenpeace report said, adding that Athens represents a step backwards from Sydney 2000, where the solar powered Olympic Village became the world's largest solar suburb. It was later sold as public housing.
The Olympic Village is the largest solar suburb
"Utilization of solar energy in construction and maintenance, PVC phase out, development of car-free zones and saving of heritage sites from construction perils were key take homes from the Sydney Olympics. But no attempt was made by ATHOC to understand or learn from experiences at Sydney," said Shailendra Yashwant, international campaigns director at Greenpeace.
The World Wildlife Fund was equally critical in the run-up to the Games, issuing a scorecard that failed Athens organizers in almost every category.
"Greece must now move forward and look at what can be done to reverse the environmental impacts the day after the Games," said Demetres Karavellas, the WWF's director in Greece.
Rowing and canoeing will take place near the coastal forest
One of the most controversial issues is the development of the Schinias wetland and coastal forest into a venue to host the rowing and canoeing competitions. Environmental NGO's argues that the Schinias wetland is one of the few left in the region, and should be protected.
The WWF accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of indifference, saying it failed to hold ATHOC to its environmental promises. Even the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) lamented that environmental promises for the Athens Olympics had "fallen short."
The IOC has insisted that respect for the environment was a priority in preparing for the Games.
"We've worked closely with the Athens Organizing Committee to ensure environmental protection measures were considered right from the start," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies.
ATHOC has said that while it pressed contractors to include environmentally friendly features in all the sports venues, it could not force them to do so. ATHOC also pointed to its green successes, which include measures such as creating more public transportation, planting a million large bushes and almost 300,000 trees, placing recycling bins at venues, and using organic pesticide against mosquitoes.
Public transport is one of Athens' greener accomplishments
UNEP is working with ATHOC on a series of public awareness activities such as an anti-littering campaign, so that at least visitors at the Games will be reminded of the need to protect the environment.
"Respect for nature was a feature of ancient Greek civilization," said UNEP's Executive Director Klaus Töpfer. "In those early Games, victors were crowned with an olive wreath. The olive wreath remains 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."