Athens Fight to Hold Onto 2004 Games

By John Carr

ATHENS, May 3. GREECE was struggling to convince the International Olympic Committee yesterday that Athens would be ready to host the Olympic Games in 2004. After delays in building key infrastructure, rising costs and a general lack of urgency, the Greeks looked decidedly nervous with the arrival in Athens of Jacques Rogge, the IOC’s vice-president, on his latest inspection tour.

On his last visit, in February, Mr. Rogge was unimpressed by a series of slipping deadlines and told Costas Simitis, the Prime Minister, that any more delays in the preparations for the 2004 Games would be inexcusable. Now, despite the completion of infrastructure works such as a new £2 billion airport and progress on a northern Athens ring road, Mr. Rogge is expected to issue a further warning.

Last week, when the media interpreted a letter of his to Costas Kartalis, the Culture Ministry’s special secretary for the Olympics, as praise for progress in preparations, Mr. Rogge was quick to reply: "It was not a letter of praise. It was a technical document on the progress of the activities. We will render judgment at the end of the visit."

On arrival in Athens Mr. Rogge made no statements, but plunged into a flurry of meetings with officials. A still unanswered question is whether Athens might yet manage to lose the Olympiad. The possibility seemed real last year, when the IOC threatened to withdraw the Games. It took the appointment of Yanna Daskalaki-Angelopoulou, one of Europe’s wealthiest women, with
little time for meddling politicians, to knock preparations into shape.

Contracts for building the Olympic Village are expected to be awarded next week after months of delay, the result of dithering between government
ministers and contractors over who should get the best jobs.

Two days ago, rather than face further criticism from the IOC, the four contracting consortia slashed their combined budget by 9 per cent. However, the original budget of some $3.3 billion has crept up to $3.6 billion as the Government is only just realizing that it is not only the bricks and mortar that have to be taken care of, but that the police, ambulance service,
coastguard and fire brigade are also all in dire need of modernization.

"Extra costs have come up," Evanghelos Venizelos, the Culture Minister, admitted recently. Mrs Daskalaki-Angelopoulou, however, claims that her organizing committee has managed to save up to $90 million by cutting "unnecessary constructions."

Fani Palli-Petralia, an opposition conservative former Athletics Minister, said that spending on key venues such as the wrestling hall in the disadvantaged suburb of Ano Liosia, the table tennis and gymnastics hall at
Galatsi and a big soccer stadium in Crete was already up by about 40 per cent. Other opposition deputies pointed out that, 35 years after Montreal hosted the Games, that city was still paying the debts it had incurred.

Daunting problems remain. Three years before the opening Athens still lacks a modern public transport system, especially in suburban railways. Plans to
include a rail line to Spata airport were hit by a major road contractor with extensive media interests who feared a loss of revenue from the road tolls. Northern Athens, except for the genteel suburb of Kifissia, lacks the hotels that will be needed to house the thousands of visitors. Last month Nikos Christodoulakis, the Development Minister, announced plans to build a few dozen new suburban hotels. Yet even the planned Olympic Village will be sitting dangerously near a known earthquake fault line.

The Athens 2004 committee is under fire from other quarters. Archaeologists and environmentalists have joined forces to fight plans for an Olympic sailing and rowing center abutting the ancient battlefield of Marathon. The committee claims that the environs of Marathon were ruined by illegal building years ago.

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