Saturday, May 8, 2004

Athens wants 'to look good on TV'

City planning to use banners to spruce up image

By Lisa Orkin
The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece - The city has a plan to make sure it looks good for the Olympics: If something can't be fixed, cover it up!

Experts in graphic design and public relations created a series of giant colorful banners to fasten over the facades of drab buildings around venues and along busy roads.

The pressure is on - not just to finish Olympic projects in time, but also to make them aesthetically appealing.

"We want Athens to look as good as possible on television," said Theodora Mantzaris, head of the organizing committee's image and identity department.

The group is in charge of decorating 60 facilities, including the airport and central squares.

"The banners are going to be very festive," Mantzaris told The Associated Press. "We are going to be very vibrant, very lively and very Olympic during the games."

Visitors to the public order ministry - on a colorless block north of the city center that also houses the secret service - will be greeted with a banner bearing a scene from Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the games.

There will be plenty of shades of blue and purple, colors associated with the sea and bougainvillea plants that adorn Greek islands.

In total, organizers will produce 6,700 banners, plus hundreds of thousands of square feet of fabric to cover fences and yet more to decorate inside sports arenas.

The giant cover-up is seen as a tacit admission that this cement-heavy city of 4 million people failed to carry out earlier plans of a grandiose overhaul.

Construction crews are working around the clock just to have the main stadium ready for the Aug. 13 opening ceremony.

Decorations will go up in July and come down in October, after the Paralympics. All the banners have been tested on camera and have been approved by the Athens Olympic Broadcaster, the company that will transmit images from the games across the globe.

Mantzaris said Athens' designs will "focus on the athlete ... so that the athlete will be the protagonist in our games."

Organizers also created what are being called "spectaculars": enormous building wraps that hide old or ugly buildings.

Before each Summer or Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee and the local organizers work together on "the look" of the host city. The IOC, which begins its final major inspection Monday, thinks Athens has done a good job.

"What people will perceive and a great deal of what people remember during the 2004 Olympic Games ... is the way the games look unique and the message that unique look sends," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

And some Athenians, worn out by the noise, dust and detours caused by a late surge in construction, are sorry the facelift will only be temporary.

"I don't think banners will change anything for most people," resident Constantina Athanassopoulos said. "No matter what they do, Athenians are not going to feel any different, because their lives have been a living hell."

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