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Greeks conjure Olympic spirit to revive sport

The 2020 summer Olympic Games have been postponed, but in Greece, the home of the original ancient games, they are making Olympian efforts to keep sport going.
Published 21 August 2020

The Authentic Marathon Swim. Source: Ministry of Culture and Sports, Greece

“It has been a very difficult year in many, many ways, but we are absolutely determined to let people do as much sport as they can under the circumstances,” says Dionysis Karakasis, who heads the Department of International Relations at Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Many top events were cancelled in the spring and summer as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic forced the Greek authorities to lock down much of the economy, confine people to their homes and social distance from other people. While the situation has eased in recent months, there are still restrictions across Greece. “It is very sad to see so many wonderful events that were planned have been cancelled or postponed. But we are carrying on with many other wonderful events, and they are proving to be very welcome,” says Dionysis. “We are doing all we can to keep the #BeActive flag flying.”

The events that have been kept demonstrate Greece’s Herculean appetite for sport. They include:

  • The Sport Camp events, one of which took place on July 17 in Dionysos in the Attica region: almost 150 children aged between eight and 13 took part in various sports, under the aegis of BeActive
  • The Route of Truce, set to take place in Olympia on August 29, is another BeActive event. This #BeActive event is a 50km circuit for serious runners along a point-to-point trail located near Kalyvia Ilidos (there is also a 2km run for children in the town of Ilida).
  • The Athens Marathon, on November 8, covering the same ground that the messenger Phiedippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago, allowing runners run to follow in the very footsteps of that ancient hero – with the finish line in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games. (there are also #BeActive 5km and 10km runs).
  • The Authentic Marathon Swim is a 10km open-water race across the straits of Artemision on September 4-6. Taking place exactly 2,500 years after the Battle of Artemision, the epic naval clash between the Greeks and Persians in 480BC, the race recreates the route across the swum by Hydna of Scione and her father Skyllias to sabotage the Persian fleet.
  • The Santorini Experience, one of Greece’s most successful sports tourism events, takes place on the beautiful Cyclades island on October 2-4. It offers 10km and 15km running routes around the Santorini volcano, running at an altitude of 334m above sea level, and a 2.4km open water swim from the volcano to the old port of Fira.
  • The Navarino Challenge on October 16-18 features more than 25 activities like open water swimming, running, cycling, paddling, climbing, basketball, beach volleyball and Taekwondo. It takes place in the stunning Costa Navarino in the southern Peloponnese and aims to promote a healthy, active and fun lifestyle in keeping with the Olympic spirit of fair play.
  • A special commemorative postage stamp and envelope to support #BeActive and National Fitness Day, set to be released on September 23.
  • Sport Apparel Day on September 23 to promote physical exercise and mental health, which involves walking routes around Athens sites.
  • Deaf and Hearing in Action, a series of cultural, social and sporting activities in eight cities across Greece.
  • And a November 4-6 meeting of Council of Europe sports ministers in Athens.

Dionysis says all the events are being held under the strictest health and safety conditions, and authorities are alert to any changes in circumstances that may force them to adapt. Greece has weathered the pandemic relatively well so far, with a total of just over 7,250 cases by mid-August and 230 lives lost, but he says there is no room for complacency.

“We know at any moment that any of these events could be postponed,” he says. “We are doing our best in the circumstances and dealing with lots of new rules that did not exist six months ago. It is hard to do sport with a mask on, but we have to be creative and adaptable. It is weird, but the alternative of not doing any sport is unthinkable. We have to live actively. We have to #BeActive.”

Week of sport