Collapse Fear: Greece Contemplates Demolition of Symbolic Olympic Stadium Roof

Collapse Fear: Greece Contemplates Demolishing Symbolic Olympic Stadium Roof

Greece Faces Dilemma Over Safety of Olympic Stadium Roof

In 2004, the Athens Olympic Games showcased a remarkable steel dome roof over a stadium, symbolising Greece's pride and confidence in hosting the event. Designed by Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava, this architectural masterpiece stood as a testament to Greece's ability to host the world's greatest sporting spectacle. However, nearly two decades later, this iconic structure is now at the centre of safety concerns, leading the Greek government to consider its indefinite closure.

The 70,000-seat stadium, a prominent Athens landmark, is facing closure due to concerns regarding the stability of Calatrava's steel canopy. A public asset body responsible for inspecting the site has found that the roof does not meet the legally permitted levels of static adequacy. Additionally, a nearby velodrome, covered with a similar structure, has displayed signs of instability and may also be closed indefinitely. Greek Sports Minister Yiannis Vroutsis stated that there is no specific timeline for when these facilities might reopen, pending a second inspection by a professional association of engineers.

The consequences of shutting down the stadium have quickly become apparent. Numerous events, including a sold-out concert by Coldplay scheduled for the next year, may face cancellation. As a result, officials are reluctantly considering the possibility of dismantling the famous roof due to the extensive rust found in its steel cables, arches, and even its bolts. "Nothing at this point is being ruled out," noted an anonymous source, "Maybe it will have to come down."

Fear of collapse of Olympic stadium demolition fears
Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava has previously faced criticism for his works, which, while intricate and visually stunning, have encountered various problems, including a leaky roof in a winery in northern Spain. In this case, inadequate maintenance is being blamed for the Olympic stadium's current state, as well as the deterioration of many other installations built for the games.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged that the OAKA Olympic complex had not been properly maintained for two decades, expressing his disappointment at the neglect of these important facilities. The lack of upkeep can be attributed to budget cuts imposed on successive Greek governments by international lenders after the country narrowly avoided bankruptcy in 2009.

Stavros Kontonis, who served as sports minister during the Syriza party's tenure in 2015, recounted how ministry officials struggled even to locate the Olympic stadium project's file. "We couldn't even find the project's file... We were forced to ask for it from Calatrava's office in Spain."

While some engineers argue that the canopies may not be in immediate danger of collapse, government officials, who have dealt with a series of disasters this year, may have acted swiftly due to fear of being unprepared.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Games, once seen as a moment of glory, are increasingly regarded as an extravagant expenditure that contributed to Greece's economic difficulties. Many believe that the Games played a role in accelerating the country's debt crisis. The left-wing Avgi newspaper criticised the cost of the Games, suggesting that they "contributed decisively to the Greek state going bankrupt just a few years later."

Collapse Fear: Greece Contemplates Demolition of Symbolic Olympic Stadium Roof 1

The iconic Calatrava roof, which was meant to symbolise Greece's modernisation and progress, now stands as a symbol of disappointment and the gap between perception and reality. Yannis Tsirbas, an associate professor of political science at Athens University, observes that it has become "a symbol of the collapse of the narrative of modernisation of Greece."

In the days and months ahead, Greece faces a difficult decision regarding the fate of its famous Olympic stadium roof, once a symbol of triumph but now a reminder of challenges faced in the aftermath of a costly sporting event.

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