Pick a motto, any motto

Updated: July 23, 2004, 1:28 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

In a way, the staggering reluctance of the Greek population to buy tickets for Olympic events will serve as a great and glorious boon to Athens during the Games.

military officer
It's time for Greece to take deperate measures to make you realize Athens is the place to be in August.

Simply put, no spectators, no traffic.

On the other hand, no spectators, no spectators, and with no spectators comes great embarrassment for the Greek government and its Olympic committee, and with great embarrassment comes desperate solutions.

Yes, we sit dangerously on the cusp of the Pythagoras bobble-head.

It is clear, with the Games barely weeks away, that the Greek Olympic Committee is going to have to market this puppy as never before, to steal every idea ever tried in any minor league hockey rink in North America, in a desperate attempt to make the Olympics look like a great idea.

And no, a three-act play by Thucydides played out by the Macedonian track team during the march into the stadium isn't going to cut it.

No, this is no time for elaborate (read: interminable, incomprehensible and thoroughly tedious) stage shows like the one at the start of the Salt Lake City Winter Games. The Athens folks are going to have do this the more traditional American way.

They are going to have to go heavy on the giveaways and gimmicks.

True, this is an Olympic tradition usually restricted to IOC delegates when it comes time to vote on a new city. Only it's called graft, bribe-taking, and rarely, three years in minimum security learning how to cook flapjacks for 450.

But in this case, where the venues are going to have that Tuesday night/Expos vs. Pirates look to them, the giveaways will have to be used as a customer lure, just as they are here.

In other words, we're talking Aristotle Onassis T-shirts, emblazoned with the legend, "If I Were Alive Today, I'd Be Here With You."

We're talking dot racing with the dots being the last three 200-meter runners to be eliminated in the semifinals.

We're talking souvenir specimen cups with the words, "Certified Clean-As-A-Whistle Olympian 2004."

And of course, pins.

Pins, the currency of choice for people who don't like the currency we call money, grease every flywheel at an Olympic Games to commemorate the first Gyro Night, to commemorate the 50th spectator at the rhythmic gymnastics, to commemorate the Great Ouzo-Off in the Olympic Village, and to commemorate the first sighting of a Dream Teamer in the Village.

These are, after all, desperate times for the Olympic movement. Between the allegations that every athlete since Paavo Nurmi has been on the clear, the Athenian gift for turning construction target dates into mere suggestions, and the uncertain global situation, this is going to be one nervous Olympics.

Parthenon
Athens brought in a French lighting expert so that the Acropolis can shine during the Olympics.

It'll be like the world has gathered in one place to bat against Pedro Martinez right after he has given up a three-run homer to Omar Infante.

So how do you overcome this sense of keep-your-heads-on-def-com-swivel-folks?

Easy. Bedazzle them with cheap trinkets.

We're talking little Olympic hard hats emblazoned with the motto, "85% Is Close Enough."

We're talking T-shirts that say, "The Balkans: Doing Much Better These Days, Thanks For Asking."

We're talking silent auctions for the right to sit in the NBC booth at the archery venue between Al Trautwig and Mary Carillo: "Ooh, one right in the gizzard, and that's got to hurt the plucky Uzbek's chances at a medal."

Or, if it's spectacle you want, there's always the spectre of a great naval battle fought offshore by the various high rollers who want their Olympic experience to be as close to the exits as possible. Hire a few pirates, a few parrots, and teach them all to say "Aaaaaarrggghhh me hearties" on cue and in context, and you've got a show that would strike even Bob Costas mute.

I mean, do you want people in the place or not?

Or maybe you juice up the events themselves, like the 1,000 meter demolition butterfly, or have all the contestants in the 10-meter dive take off at the same time, or have all the gymnastics judges replaced by the cast of "Deadwood."

Team javelin. Fencing with maces. Putting alligator moats in front of the three bases in the baseball competition. Putting the end of the marathon right into the middle of rush hour traffic.

Or for that quick fix, NASCAR.

You see, there are possibilities here, but the days are wasting away to a precious few. This kind of dramatic last-minute overhaul requires quick thinking, planning and licensing (which, after all, is the most important Olympic sport to the IOC), and time, as it has been since Athens got the Games six years ago, is in short supply.

What, you think Olympic Torch barbecue starters make themselves, Spiros?

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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