Greece and sports, the two go hand in hand. The birthplace of the Olympic Games. The hot weather affording an active outdoor lifestyle. It’s no wonder that Greeks are passionate about sports..
The history of Greek football dates back to 1866 when it is said that officers of a British warship stationed in Corfu introduced football to to a team formed by the locals. The sport was more popular in the thriving Greek cities of Asia Minor and not so much on the Greek mainland, until the destruction of Asia Minor by the Turks saw the evacuation of more than a million Greeks from these areas to the mainland and these refugees started football clubs all over Greece.
The Greek Super League is the highest professional league in the country. At the end of the season the bottom 3 clubs are relegated to the second National League to be replaced by the top 3 teams from that league. The two most successful Greek soccer teams are Olympiakos whose colours are red and white and Panathinaikos whose colours are green and white.
The national football team of Greece is controlled by the Hellenic Football Federation and Greece’s first appearance in a major tournament was at Euro 1980 in Italy, but it wasn’t until Euro 2004 under the guidance of the German Coach Otto Rehhagel, that they secured their first win and title, beating the stunned defending champions France in a thrilling 2-1 final. Unsurprisingly football is now one of the country’s favourite sports.
Basketball in Greece has a very long history as they were one of the eight founding members of the International Basketball Federation (more commonly known by the French Acronym Federation Internationale de Basketball – FIBA) founded in Geneva in 1932, two years after the sport was officially recognised by the IOC.
Greece is generally considered an important power in international basketball and the national team regarded as one of the best in the world, having won the European Championships twice in 1977 and 2005.
The Olympic Games
No mention of sport in Greece would be complete without including the Olympic Games. This international multi sport event, is divided into Summer and Winter games, each held every four years. In 1924 the winter games were sanctioned for winter sports and were held in the same year as the summer games until 1992 since when they have been separated by two years. Before the 1970’s the Games were officially limited to competitors with amateur status, but in the 1980’s many events were opened up to professional athletes.
The original Olympic Games began in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece. Held every 4 years (an Olympiad) and dedicated to the Gods the Games reached their zenith in the 5th and 6th Centuries BC. Event winners were greatly admired and the victors presented with a crown of olive leaves (the olive branch being considered a symbol of hope and peace).
The Games diminished in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. The Games were celebrated until AD 393 when the Emperor Theodosius decreed them a ‘pagan cult’ and outlawed them thus ending a thousand year tradition.
Interest in reviving the Games as an international event began when German archaeologists uncovered the ruins of Ancient Olympia in the mid 19th century. A French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was looking for a way to bring nations closer together by inviting them to compete in sports rather than fight in war, and on his initiative the International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894. The first of the IOCs Olympic Games were the summer Olympics in Athens in 1896 in which 241 participants from 14 nations competed. Since then participation in the Olympic Games has steadily increased , as of 2006 the winter Olympics comprised of 84 events in 7 sports and as of 2004 the summer Olympics held in Athens saw 11,100 participants from 202 nations competing.
The Olympic Rings were debuted at the 1920 Games in Antwerp. This Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions, in five different colours, which are, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from around the world.
The Olympic Flame was kept burning throughout the celebrations of the ancient games to commemorate the theft of fire from the God Zeus. The flame was re-introduced at the 1938 Summer Olympics and has been part of the modern games ever since.
Today the Olympic torch is lit several months before the opening ceremony of the games at the site of the ancient games in Olympia. Eleven women representing the roles of the Priestesses perform a ceremony during which the flame is ignited using the rays of the sun and a parabolic mirror. The modern convention of moving the Olympic flame from Olympia to the Olympic venue began with the 1936 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. This torch relay symbolises the passing of Olympic traditions from one generation to another. Although most of the time the flame is carried by runners, it has also been transported by aeroplane, canoe, camel and concorde. This relay ends on the day of the opening ceremony when the final runner carries the flame into the stadium and lights the torch that will burn throughout the Olympic celebrations being extinguished only at the end of the Games closing ceremony.
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