April 20, LAUSANNE, Switzerland. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch raised the possibility today that Athens might lose the 2004 Olympics unless Greek organizers make "drastic changes" by the end of this year.
In an extraordinary public broadside, Samaranch said Greece – birthplace of the Olympics – had failed to deliver and faced major problems and delays in preparations for the games.
Samaranch said it was the worst organizational crisis faced by an Olympic city in his 20 years as president of the International Olympic Committee.
Samaranch said he told the Greeks that organizing the Olympics involves three phases: green, where everything is proceeding smoothly, yellow, where there are "many problems," and red, where the "games are in danger."
"I told them we are at the end of the yellow phase," Samaranch said. "If from now until the end of the year there are no drastic changes, we will enter the red phase."
While accusing Greece of failing to deliver on its promises, Samaranch discounted – but did not rule out – the possibility of moving the games elsewhere.
"I cannot imagine the games will not be held in Athens," he said at a later news conference. "We hope, after this warning, all the things will be in the right way.
"I think this was the right moment to say what I said," he added. "By the end of the year, if they are not taking the drastic measures, we will speak with them and see what measures to take. But I am sure and optimistic there will be these changes very, very soon."
Samaranch said he issued the same warning privately to Greek organizers a few months ago but waited to go public until after this month's Greek elections.
IOC officials will meet with Greek government officials in the next few days to press the point.
Samaranch called for Greece to appoint a government cabinet minister to take charge of the organizing committee, adopting the same model as that for the 2000 Sydney Games.
Athens, which staged the first modern games in 1896, was awarded the 2004 Olympics in September 1997. Since then, many of the plans promised during the bid have been changed or dropped, and the organizing committee has been bogged down in government bureaucracy.
"They need to make important changes as soon as possible," Samaranch said. "This kind of organization is not delivering the results we expected. With four years before the games, it's time the government takes the responsibility they have to take."
Jacques Rogge, who heads the IOC panel with oversight over the Athens Games, said the Greeks must speed up the decision-making process. He listed problems in accommodations, traffic, security, communications, construction, venues and infrastructure.
"What is needed is a bit more sense of urgency and to understand the scope of the games," Rogge said. "Our partners do not understand what the games are.
"The whole structure must be revamped. The dynamism we had in the bid is still to be found. But we'll find it."
Rogge said there was no contingency plan for moving the games.
"We feel that's not needed," he said. "It would be unfair to the Greeks. We are finding backup plans within the organization."
Costas Bakouris, managing director of the Athens organizing committee, said the complaints were "exaggerated."
"They wanted us to move faster and we are now moving faster," Greek IOC member Lambis Nikolaou said. "We have the support of the government. There are a lot of issues which need to be settled and we're working on it."
IOC vice president Dick Pound warned that the Greeks are "running out of time."
"It's becoming a crisis as opposed to a managed process," he said.
Moving the games elsewhere was technically feasible, Pound said.
"It would have to be a major crisis," he said. "Yeah, we can do that. But you're better off dancing with the girl you brought than changing midstream.
"We did it when Denver backed out of the 1976 Games. We cast about and found Innsbruck. It can be done, but we sure don't like to do it. It's not good for us, it's not good for Greece and it's not good for the games."
Dennis Oswald, who heads the association of summer sports, said the federations were pessimistic.
"We have serious concerns about the preparation of the games," he said. "Sydney was probably two or three months ahead of Athens at the same time."
Meanwhile, the IOC announced that the 28 summer sports federations would receive a total of $161.2 million in TV and marketing revenues from the Sydney Games. That's an 82 percent increase over the $88.6 million allocated to the federations from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation, the world governing body of track and field, will get the largest slice – $17.668 million, more than double the $8.67 the IAAF received from Atlanta.
The rest of the money will be split among the federations in four groups, based on TV ratings, ticket sales and attendance from 1996.