To hear the Hellenic Swimming Federation General Manager and 1980 Olympian Yiannis Giannouris talk, the time is now for athletes from around the globe to take in a few more deep breaths of that salty yet-so-sweet Mediterranean air.

With Athens hosting another FINA series finale event this week – this time the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series Super Final – the homecoming is gaining momentum.  A growing base of Greek clubs and athletes taking to artistic swimming is also helping spur this welcome development along.

With event hosting ambition both for the present and the future on the horizon, the event’s official motto translates to “take a breath” which accurately matches the country’s aquatic mood. International sport is coming back to Greece. Breathe in deep. It’s a long and refreshing breath of air.   

How’s it going with aquatic sport – and artistic swimming in particular – in Greece? It feels like you’re building some momentum for the sport here.

Listen, it’s becoming quite popular with over 80 of our 200 aquatics clubs practising artistic swimming in Greece. The intention is to expand artistic swimming opportunities through our clubs; we think we can get the sport into about 170 clubs, for the girls as well as for the boys. What we’re after is enlarging the base of our sport’s structure.

Artistic swimming is quite popular; it’s not quite up there with football or basketball, that’s another level, but it’s becoming more and more popular. It’s a beautiful sport, one that you don’t need too much experience with or exposure to immediately appreciate. Dancing in the water, music, aquatic ballet… you watch it, you get it.

By hosting the artistic swimming Super Final, we’re getting Greece back into top-level sports. After the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, eventing for all aquatic disciplines is back. Here, we have one of the best aquatic complexes in the world. We have 11 swimming pools here: indoor, outdoor. It’s the biggest – well, I don’t want to say it’s the biggest or best aquatics venue in the world, but it’s one of them.  

Visiting the venues, one immediately sees all these pools being put to good use.

More than 3,000 people practice daily here. We have fitness and wellbeing programmes for the public, school events and competition training. Coming back to hosting events, we want to showcase what the maximum level of these sports looks like for our athletes.

It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re thankful to FINA and the Artistic Swimming technical committee for assigning us this event. We had short notice to get ready. But we do our best, of course. High-level competitions like this take more time to prepare for. We’ve done the maximum we can for the athletes. And let’s say we are optimistic about continuing to host top aquatics events.

We got a start again last year with the FINA Super Final in women’s water polo. That was our first event since 2004. Last week we did the Acropolis Swim Open with 150 international athletes and 300 Greek athletes. That was our international comeback for swimming. So, we are coming back, step by step.

We hope to bring back international diving here next year. This is important – we need to convince our governments and our sponsors. We’re now innovating in how we combine top events hosting with developing sport in Greece.

Working with the corporate market, the standards are very high when it comes to return on investment. The way we take care of our sponsors, and the way we promote them bring value to our partners. More are going to come. This will allow us to plan and deliver more programmes in the future. We’re honoured to have this event and all these important, top-level athletes in Athens. We’re very proud and doing our best to put on an excellent showcase of the sport and make them happy.

Why is today the time to bring back international sporting events?

It’s a long story. Every party, and every government has a different vision. Hosting the 2004 Olympics was a big success for Greece. Nobody could quite believe it, but we delivered a very nice level of the Games.

After the Olympics, though, we didn’t cultivate the people that helped deliver the event from the organising committee. People with know-how, how to deliver these events were out of the loop. So, the ambition to promote Greece as a country through sport was a bit abandoned. And then in 2008, 2009 the economic issues of that time were of another nature.

Now, we open the door to the world. Sport is a positive communication vehicle; it’s not the only one, but it’s a good one. Tourism in Greece is a big industry. The Greek islands, everybody knows the Greek island.

Everywhere in the world, there are nice places. But okay, just like everyone, we are proud of our places. While the pandemic was a big obstacle to organising and delivering events, now, pools are opening to the public. We become ambitious to bid for and organise big events again.

At the Athens Olympics, we had 40,000 volunteers. What happened to them? If we don’t do events, they disappear. Now, they’re coming back. And they are an essential part of sports. We need them. While we take this step by step, we’re in it for the long haul.  

Coming back to what’s happening here in Athens, this is the final stop before the FINA World Championships. How’s the artistic team looking for Budapest?

For our (artistic swimming) team now, we are introducing a new generation with a few more experienced athletes. Of course, our objective is Paris and the 2024 Olympics, but our next step is the FINA World Championships in Budapest. We have a good group on the national team and young talents also pushing them from behind. Our staff is solid. And while we might not right now be at the absolute top of the sport, we are coming. Nobody dreams to become a champion from the first day, but we are coming. The community behind our national team is what’s going to help us achieve our goals.