‘Greeks are paying for three lost years’

The organization of the 2004 Olympic Games has often been a matter of contention between the government and the opposition. The former and Athens 2004, the organizing committee, claim that all is proceeding according to plan, even though the International Olympic Committee has sounded the alarm, Meanwhile, the New Democracy opposition, not wishing to be accused of being obstructive, has tolerated various irregularities. Now, perhaps for the first time, an ND official has spoken out, demonstrating that preparations for the Games are far from being as the government represents them. Fani Palli-Petralia, ND spokeswoman for the Games and a member of the national Olympic Committee, spoke to Kathimerini recently about the issue without adopting a partisan approach. There has been much talk of delays in completing projects and significant overshooting of budgets. What is the true state of affairs? Poor progress cannot be concealed by mincing words and speaking in generalities. Greeks are paying for the three years lost due to the government’s inaction and ineffectiveness, possibly even intentionally. Yes, there are delays; there are cutbacks. Projects have gone from being «new Parthenons» to tents and temporary constructions. Budgets have been seriously overrun and, worst of all, popular interest in the national endeavor has waned. To show you this isn’t just talk, I’ll give you some statistics. In 2000, the International Broadcast Center (IBC) had an official budget of 29.3 million euros, which in 2001 went up to 88 million, and is currently running at 182 million – in short an increase of 52 percent. The shooting range had a budget of 11.8 million euros in 2000, and is now at 33.7 million, in other words, an increase of 108 percent. How far might the budget be overrun? In June 2001, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas made public the list of Olympic Games preparations projects, which were supposedly «locked in» at 2.7 billion euros from 1997 to 2004. If you look through the budget that has just been drawn up, you’ll see that for just two years (2002 and 2003) the overall budget for Olympic projects is 3.1 billion euros. In other words, if not a single euro was spent by 2002 and not a single euro after 2003, we would still be 428.5 million euros over budget. And this doesn’t even include the Olympic Village, the suburban railroad, the tram, the unification of archaeological sites or the funding for sports preparations. It’s tragic, it’s a shame to say so, but it’s a fact: There is no general budget for the Olympics, so nobody knows how much has been spent or how much will be spent. In order to cover over the dearth of money which is becoming apparent, the government recently set up the Olympic Real Estate Company. This company received as a dowry the entire seafront of Attica, the site of the former airport at Hellenikon and so on. It may receive funding from the budget, allocate surveys and construction, hand over areas, projects and marinas to private owners for use after the Games and, of course, take out loans. It already appears to have taken out the first Olympic loan from the European Investment Bank for 1.5 billion euros. Since the company has not promised to publish any balance sheet and thus be audited before the end of 2004, it is obvious that it has been set up to cover all the past and future «sins» of the Olympiad, so that the government can capitalize on the Olympic preparations for electoral purposes without any substantive checks. It has been difficult to attract volunteers. Many people wonder why they should work for nothing when others are being paid millions. People are now aware of the machinations and that has made popular interest dwindle to almost nil. In all recent polls, the Olympics come second to last or last in the list of things that interest people. And to think in 1997, 94.7 percent of those asked expressed not only interest, but enthusiasm and willingness to help. This climate of indifferent opinion naturally affects volunteerism. It is said that 41,000 people have already applied to become volunteers and that there will eventually be 150,000 applications. Analysis of the percentage of volunteers per category shows they correspond exactly to the number of young unemployed people in Greece.