Greek Jockeys Demand Privatization

Jockeys pose with their race horses next to a banner in the background that reads "Yes to Privatization" in central Athens on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Jockeys and racecourse officials staged a protest, angry at delays in the process to privatize the state-run Horse Racing Betting Organization (ODIE). (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Greece hasn’t seen many demonstrations in favor of privatization during its acute four-year financial crisis, but jockeys are keen to be rid of a state-run agency that controls racetrack betting, and they rode their horses into central Athens last week to make their point.

Jockeys, as well as racecourse officials, are angry at the lack of progress in Greece’s privatization program, and warn that the industry could suffer a major setback if a late January deadline expires without the sale of the Horse Race Betting Organization, ODIE.

The government has so far failed to pass legislation required for the privatization deal. Without it, the agency faces closure to the potential ruin of a racetrack outside Athens.

“There’s been a complete lack of communication between all the sides involved in this process,” Giorgos Alibinisis, head of the Greek jockey trainers’ association, said standing next to two race horses, Korinthos and Perifitis. “No one is against this privatization, but it’s not happening.”

Privatization is a cornerstone of Greece’s recovery program, demanded by bailout lenders as a way for paying down the national debt and reducing the size of government. But plans have been delayed by the scale of the undertaking, and shaky investor interest while the fate of the country’s economy remained uncertain.

The first major sell-off only succeeded this year, with the sale of state betting agency OPAP. Greece has been relying on international bailout loans since 2010, after losing market access because of mounting debts and the international credit crisis.

Strict austerity measures demanded as a condition for the rescue money have triggered soaring rates of poverty and unemployment. The jobless rate for the third quarter held steady at 27 percent, the country’s statistics authority said, but with the number of long-term unemployed surging to 71 percent, from 62.6 percent the previous year.

Most workers in Greece lose their benefits after being jobless for a year, when they are classified as being in long-term unemployment.
Unions have mounted strong opposition to most of the proposed privatizations, and organized more than 30 general strikes against austerity measures.

(Derek Gatopoulos)