Greece offers advice while mulling use of Olympic sites

IOC President Jacques Rogge said the Athens Olympics were «unforgettable, dream games.» One year later, the cost of those games is also proving to be unforgettable. Greece’s Finance Ministry – closely watched by European Union auditors – is still tallying up the bill, which has already reached a record 11 billion euros. The price tag, inflated by chronic delays, massive security and cost overruns, derailed Greece’s budget targets, prompting a warning from the EU, which monitors countries that use the shared euro currency. «Prepare early,» Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis advised London, which won the right to host the 2012 Olympics yesterday. Last year, Greece’s deficit reached 6.1 percent of GDP- more than double the limit set by the EU for eurozone countries. «It should not be such a big financial burden for Britain as it was for Greece because they have such a bigger economy,» Alogoskoufis told a small group of reporters near the all-marble stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. As a result of the crisis over the deficit the government slashed public spending and hiked VAT in an effort to comply with EU rules by the end of next year. «Holding the games was not a mistake; the delays were a mistake,» said Alogoskoufis, whose Conservative party took office just five months before the Olympics. «The highest cost was a result of the delays and the bad publicity caused by the delays.» Greece had initially planned to spend 4.6 billion euros, but repeatedly increased the figure as deadlines facing the August 13-29 Games drew near and fears of a terrorist attack grew. Security alone cost Athens 1.2 billion euros. Greece argues that benefits from the games will be major but long-term. «We in Athens are willing to share our experience and valuable technical know-how that we garnered during the Olympic Games of 2004,» Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis said. Meanwhile, Athens is grappling to manage the lavish new stadiums built around the capital and the rest of Greece, which will remain under state ownership. Alogoskoufis said there were problems with some of the facilities, such as a new soccer stadium on the island of Crete and another in the central city of Volos, which he described as «white elephants.» Tomorrow, the government will launch an international tender to lease three Olympic facilities – a badminton arena, the international broadcasting center, and the canoe-and-kayak facility – the first in a series of similar tenders. «It’s very important that we follow up on the success of the Athens Olympics,» said Fani Palli-Petralia, the deputy culture minister. «This is a legacy we must preserve.»

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