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Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the former president of the Organizing Committee for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, presented her first-hand perspective of the Olympic organizing challenges during a speech last night at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Several hundred Harvard students, faculty, and members of the general public attended the event at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.
“In ancient times,” said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, “the Olympic Games emerged as a powerful symbol of Greece’s Golden Age. Twenty-five hundred years later, the Games became a modern symbol of the vibrant, sophisticated New Greece that I see emerging — a capable, cosmopolitan nation ready to play a larger role in the region and in the world.”
The address, titled “The Athens Games: Resolving the Greek Paradox,” focused on both the risks and costs Greece incurred in hosting the Games, and the long-range benefits that the nation is now beginning to accrue. Those benefits, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said, include enhanced global perception of the New Greece; a growing tourism business; and a renewed self-confidence in Greece.
“I saw emerging a new confidence and talent in the way we dealt with the world. We transformed the way the world sees us, and the way we see one another. And perhaps this is the most important gain of all,” she said.
“We wanted the Games to unify the people of Greece; to instil within us a new sense of pride; to push our economy ahead; and to make our capital city a more beautiful and liveable place. We asked that these Games resolve, once and for all, what I have called ‘The Greek Paradox.’”
In 1995, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki co-chaired, along with Kennedy School Professor Graham Allison, a Harvard Leadership Symposium titled “The Greek Paradox: Promise vs. Performance,” which addressed the gap between Greece’s potential and its performance in the realms of politics, economic growth, and regional leadership.
Since the symposium, many contend that a New Greece has emerged and has begun to resolve the Greek Paradox, in part because of the effort to host a successful Games. Explained Angelopoulos-Daskalaki: “The New Greece both is an emblem of, and a product of, the power of the Olympic Games.”
“Infrastructure improvements have transformed Greece — not just the transport and communications infrastructure, but also the human infrastructure. The Greek economy, powered by Olympic preparations, grew at multiples of the EU growth rate in the years leading up to the Games and that momentum continues.
“Personally, I am most inspired by the way Greeks of every background came together in pursuit of a single goal,” she added. “This unprecedented unity, in the face of extraordinary pressure, is the surest proof yet that the Greek Paradox is rapidly becoming a relic of an earlier age.”
Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood introduced Angelopoulos-Daskalaki at the Forum. “With great dedication, wisdom and drive, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki led the herculean effort to plan and stage one of the most successful Olympic Games of the modern era in one of the smallest nations ever to host the summer Olympics. She proved all the critics and doubters wrong,” he said. “She is a powerful force not only in Greece, but her leadership stands as an example and inspiration for people around the world.”
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and her husband Theodore have long supported philanthropic causes both in Greece and elsewhere throughout the world, and are the benefactors of the newly created Angelopoulos Professorship in Public Health and International Development at the Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health. The Angelopoulos Professor will engage in various teaching and outreach activities at both schools, preparing a new generation of leaders to strengthen democratic ideals and understand, anticipate and resolve future health challenges.
The creation of the professorship as well as the Angelopoulos Lecture Series reflects the long-time concerns of Mr. Angelopoulos and Mrs. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, and will allow Harvard to enhance its contribution to the global public health policy debate.