The Hellenic Council of New South Wales has abandoned efforts to bring the Trireme Olympias to participate in the last few days of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay.
It was hoped that the Trireme Olympias would carry the Olympic Torch from Manly, past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge towards Homebush Bay. The wish of the local Greek Australian community and the Hellenic Navy (the owners of the vessel) was that the crew of almost two hundred rowers would be made up of rowers from as many countries and as many backgrounds as possible. The Hellenic Council of NSW as well as the Greek Government believed that this would have captured the true `Spirit of the Olympics'. The true `Spirit of the Olympics', being that athletes from wherever they come from and whatever their beliefs can join together in a common sporting event. That through sporting events those athletes and the nations that they represent can resolve their differences.
The Trireme Olympias would have been a superb symbol of this concept with almost two hundred rowers rowing together. The Trireme Olympias would also have been a magnificent means of carrying the Olympic Torch through Sydney Harbour.
The true `Spirit of the Olympics' has suffered through the appalling financial meanness on the part of Official Olympic Sponsors, the State Government and the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. As a result the Trireme Olympias will not be participating.
The total financial contributions for the Trireme `Olympias' from Official Olympic Sponsors, the State Government and the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games was ZERO.
The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia was prepared to have surf life saving boats escort the Trireme and the Royal Australian Navy was prepared to provide berthing facilities. No other material or financial support was forthcoming in Sydney.
The Hellenic Ministry of Defence after intense lobbying was recently prepared to allocate a military vessel currently on operational duty to carry the Trireme (which is over 100 feet long) from the Mediterranean to Australia. In addition, the Greek National Tourist Organisation had been lobbied and was prepared to pay for repairs to the Trireme. The Hellenic Navy was also prepared to undertake seaworthiness trials and provide related logistics at no cost. The total commercial cost of the Greek government's support was around $1.1 million.
In effect, the Greek Government was virtually prepared underwrite the entire cost of this global visual spectacular. However, these hopes were eliminated by several requests for explanations over what financial support was forthcoming from the New South Wales Government, SOCOG and Official Sponsors.
Once Greek-Australian lobbyists advised the relevant authorities in Greece that the total financial support from Australia was zero there was no further action on the part of the Greek government.
Not surprisingly, the Greek government does not seem to be prepared to underwrite the entire cost of what is essentially something which should also be supported by the New South Wales Government, SOCOG and Official Sponsors.
The most minimal financial support from say the AMP in the form of insuring the vessel (about $50,000). Or say the NSW government waving government port charges (estimated at less than $15,000) or SOCOG making a token financial pledge (around $50,000) are likely to have been sufficient to convince the Greek government to proceed with this project.
The reluctance of SOCOG to make even a token financial contribution or pledge is disappointing given that SOCOG had provided written support for the concept.
FAILURE TO RAISE FUNDS
AMP, Channel Seven, Telstra, Visa, GIO, P and O and other official sponsors were approached but declined to contribute any funds towards this project. Zurich Australia, which was not an official Olympic sponsor, was prepared to provide almost $1 million in funding. However, constraints placed by SOCOG prevented Zurich from participating. Zurich's participation would have ensured that this project would have succeeded.
The State Government as well as SOCOG had both refused to provide any financial assistance towards this project.
The Hellenic Council of New South Wales ultimately decided not to raise money for this project as it would be perceived as underwriting something that should have been paid for by Official Sponsors. In addition, sums of this magnitude it was argued should be provided to Greek educational projects.
Despite considerable Greek government support a great opportunity to show the true meaning of the `Olympic Spirit' and promote Sydney in a manner never to be repeated has been lost.
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* The individuals participating in this project have been working on an unpaid basis and will not earn any money directly or indirectly through their involvement.