Thirteen former British Olympic medal winners have put their support behind campaigns to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.
Top British Olympians want Elgin Marbles returned
Tue 11 November, 2003 13:10
By Deborah Kyvrikosaios
ATHENS (Reuters) – The government has come under fire from some of its own greatest Olympians for refusing to return to Greece the so-called Elgin marbles in time for next year’s Athens Games.
In a coup for Greece’s campaign to right what it regards as an historical wrong, household names including Linford Christie, Daley Thompson, Alan Wells, Jonathan Edwards and Steve Smith added their voices to demands the British Museum give up the 2,500 year-old sculptures.
They were among 13 top British sports stars, also including Olympic ice skating champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as well as former England rugby union captain Will Carling, who believe the time has come for the sculptures, known as the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, to come home to their original site atop Athens’ famed Acropolis.
The marbles, mainly battle sculptures from the frieze of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis, were removed between 1802 and 1804 by Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin and shipped back to London.
Bruce, a Scot, was British ambassador to the Ottoman empire which ruled Greece at the time. The fifth century B.C. marbles were given to the British Museum where they are now housed.
Their return has been a long running dispute between Greece and Britain and the issue has flared up dramatically in the run-up to next year’s Athens Olympics.
It has even been suggested that London’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games could suffer over the controversy.
Greece recently proposed the British Museum give back the marbles on a long term loan in exchange for exhibiting other Greek antiquities. But the museum rejected the idea out of hand and vowed to hold on to them in its long held belief that the sculptures were safer in its keeping than in Greece.
Standing at the foot of the Parthenon, Wells, the 100 metre champion at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, and Smith, high jump bronze medallist at the Atlanta Games in 1996, said the 13 athletes involved were just a small fraction of the number who supported the return of the marbles.
“If you look at the general public in Britain they are very much behind the return of the marbles and from the athletes’ point of view that is also reflected,” Smith told reporters.
Wells said as a Scotsman whose own land zealously guarded its cultural heritage, he understood why Greece wanted the marbles back.
“Scotland has a great heritage and I think the Greeks should safeguard their own heritage. Unfortunately it was Lord Elgin (a Scot) that took the marbles and I think it is appropriate for me to say they should come back,” Wells said.
The athletes are part of a widespread campaign by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, which includes MPs, archaeologists and movie stars such as Sean Connery and Judy Dench.
Gary Burchett, a representative of the committee, said the athletes chosen were household names who would raise awareness among the British public which he said already supported the return of the marbles by eight to one.
“Athletes realise the marbles transcend what happens on the field (of sport),” Burchett said. “(The Athens Olympics) is the perfect opportunity for the British government, the British museum to get the marbles closer to their birthplace.”
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British stars back return of marbles
From correspondents in Athens
November 11, 2003
GREECE today published a list of 11 British Olympic medal winners who are allegedly backing the return of the legendary Elgin Marbles from London’s British Museum.
The list includes ice skating legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, 100m sprinter Alan Wells, decathlon star Daley Thompson, sprinter Linford Christie, and triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards.
Wells and Steve Smith, high-jump bronze medallist in the 1996 Atlanta Games, are to visit the Acropolis here today.
Successive Greek governments have called on the British Museum to return the fifth-century BC marbles, including 56 sculpted marble plaques originally forming the eastern frieze of the Parthenon, together with 12 statues.
Since its independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly requested the return of the marbles and their fate has dogged relations between the two countries ever since.
Last month Britain denied a report that it was to return the marbles to Greece in time for the 2004 Olympics in exchange for Greek support of London’s own Olympic bid.