Feb. 18. JUAN ANTONIO SAMARANCH, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said yesterday that Athens must work harder to prepare for the 2004 Olympics, but expressed confidence that the Greek capital would make a success of the Games.
Samaranch's remarks came amid rising concern about
Athens' slow start in preparing for the Games. As yet,
no Olympic construction project, including the Olympic
Village, has moved off the drawing boards.
"They have to accelerate the construction of the Olympic sites," Samaranch said while in Moscow to inspect preparations for the IOC meeting this summer that will choose both the site of the 2008 Games and Samaranch's successor.
"Things are going well. But maybe the construction is a
bit late," Samaranch added. He also denied recent reports that the IOC were considering taking the Olympics away from Athens. "That is a silly thing. The Games will be in Athens," he said.
Along with concerns about construction delays, some
critics have questioned whether the city, which has a history of political terrorism, would be able to mount adequate security. "We've had this problem in many cities. We have terrorism also in Spain, and nothing happened during the Olympic Games [in Barcelona in 1992] and I am sure that will be the same in Greece," Samaranch said.
Despite Samaranch's assurances that Athens will be ready for 2004, South Korean officials said Seoul could host the 2004 Summer Olympic Games should Athens be unable to do so.
"We have received no information from the IOC that it is considering changing the venue," Lee Hong-Sok,
Assistant Culture and Tourism Minister said yesterday.
"However, should Athens be unable to host the Games,
Seoul would be pleased to take the honor."
He said Seoul had successfully staged the 1988 Summer
Games. "It would not be impossible for us to stage the 2004 Games," he said, adding Seoul would use its
know-how from staging the 1988 Games and renovate
"We would consider positively (staging the 2004 Games) if there is any official request from the IOC." He noted, however, the IOC had just finished a two-day
meeting in Athens saying organizers had to speed up the construction of venues but that other Games preparations were progressing.
Chairman Dr Jacques Rogge yesterday said he found a mixed bag of results" during his two-day visit. He said although there have been delays in construction
projects for the Games, there was no question in the mind of the IOC that the Olympics will be held anywhere else but Athens in 2004 as planned.
"The IOC has never, never considered removing the Games
from Athens. In the next six months, which are crucial, the quality of the Games will be at stake with the actions that will be taken by the government," Rogge said.
Despite denials that any other site other than Athens is being considered for 2004, speculation continues about the possibility that Greek Olympic organizers are not up to the task. In the event the Games are moved, speculation has centered on Seoul, Los Angeles and Sydney as possible alternate sites.