Progress satisfactory despite some delays
Twenty months before the Olympic Games are to be held, are you happy with the progress of the preparations? I can easily say yes. I can see it in people, in their attitude to the Olympiad, in the way they embrace our initiatives, in the interest they show in the Games. Our experience alone with the volunteers is enough to make me say that our effort embraces and interests Greeks. We have the impression that the volunteer program is facing problems. We see that you are constantly changing directors. Aren’t these constant changes a sign of problems? So far we have enrolled about 50,000 volunteers. These are people who came of their own accord, who want to offer something. They are all professionals, and more than half of them are being volunteers for the first time. And I’m not counting the offers from organized groups of volunteers, such as the Scouts, forest fire fighters and others. This number on its own shows that the volunteer program is doing very well. As for the changes of director, I can assure you that that this is linked to the search for the best. It doesn’t mean that those who left are bad, but that we want to attain the best result and that is why we are continually searching. Is it true they [volunteers] don’t expect anything? There was an impression earlier that they would get some kind of fee. Only their uniform and food. We haven’t promised them anything. But let’s not just talk about the volunteers. See what a reception there has been for tickets, and how the public responded to the different scales we arranged. And the matter of the route to be taken by the Olympic flame. We’ll be uniting five continents; we’re taking the flame to 40 countries. We’re going to Africa and Latin America. We want to spread this idea to the whole world, and in a way that goes beyond commercialization. Even on the tough business of security, see how much progress there has been. Since you mention it, how did the cost of the Games run over budget? As I recall, the specifications for the security system were determined by you in collaboration with Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis. You arrived at a cost of around 200 million euros. How did it get up to 500 million euros? I wonder myself. As long as the competition was at the Public Order Ministry, the cost was set at 212 million euros. Then it rose to the sum you mentioned. The problem is that the competition is delayed and there must be a decision in December. The security chapter is a big one, and some people must understand that they cannot play for their own benefit. It is a major business and decisions have to be made as quickly as possible. I would like to ask you about the expenditure of the Athens 2004 company. The government is talking about budget overruns and a 200-billion-drachma [587-million-euro] deficit in the company’s budget. What is your reaction? There is no such thing. I don’t know what the people who say that are talking about. If they are talking about things that are being adapted for the Olympic Games, I can say that the State has the responsibility to the IOC for infrastructure and it is undertaking the cost. I’m not undertaking anything further, apart from the 120 million euros that come from the revised budget we are drafting now. That, and nothing else, concerns Athens 2004. But they insist on the difference between the 2004 budget… There are no such deficits. The whole operation is monitored by a council of auditors and the internal monitoring mechanism we set up under Nikos Themelis. I shall stay on after the Games are over. I shall leave as soon as I have given a full, clean account. And I assure you that we won’t overshoot our budget. Have you an estimate of the overall cost of the Olympiad? The government has mentioned a cost of 4.4 billion euros and it has not altered that estimate. I can’t comment on that. What I can say is that the cost is also of interest to the IOC, which does not want to leave any white elephants behind. It wants the costs controlled so that it can find other countries willing to hold the Games. And it is exerting pressure, as we are, to keep costs under control. Let me insist on the economic aspect. Many believe the cost of the Olympiad will be far higher, and in fact unbearably so. They think that when the lights go out, the Greek public will suffer a heavy loss. Some are already predicting that in 2005 the country will be in an economic crisis caused by a combination of the Olympiad and the depletion of EU funds. What is your response to these unfavorable predictions? I don’t share those views at all. On the contrary, I believe that the Games have already had a positive effect on the country. The preparations alone have raised it to another level. Until recently foreigners spoke of a Greek paradox, saying that our promises were far removed from our performance. We have reversed that image. A large group of people are already working at a different pace and adapting to the demanding conditions of the Olympiad, delivering projects on time. The Olympiad is having an educational effect. Around 150,000 people will learn a different pace; as they are obliged to work in a different way they will acquire a culture of productivity and performance. In construction, security, health, services, the Olympiad has introduced a new operational model and has created new work habits. That may be so, but you haven’t answered the question about the cost and the growing burden on the economy of the whole enterprise. I say that the economy will get a positive wave of energy from the Olympiad. Dozens of projects are being executed at the moment. Many problems that remained unresolved for decades are being resolved now. The Attiki Odos, the Hymettus ring road, the Metro extensions, the tram, the suburban light railway and many others would not have happened if it weren’t for the Olympiad. At Faliron, one of the biggest reconfigurations of an area in Europe is taking place. A huge area, five times larger than in Barcelona, will change its appearance, will be cleaned up and will give the capital city a breath of fresh air. Not to mention that the problem of terrorism was dealt with due to the pressure from the Games. But the security, health and transport services will be modernized and those involved in them will learn to act differently. They are obliged to cooperate, coordinate and operate in another way. Isn’t that progress? Doesn’t it benefit the economy? Fine, but that will happen just once and then we’ll be back where we started. Where is the benefit? It isn’t like that. The public is responding, as I told you. There has already been a change in habits in Greece. Thousands of firms are coming into this business, and we aren’t allowing them to come in opportunistically. What I mean is that people are nullifying these anxieties. They see the Olympiad as a great opportunity, and moreover, it’s a question of national pride which mobilizes people. How many companies will be involved, directly or indirectly, in the Olympiad? I estimate 6,500 companies will be involved in one way or another. All of them will be checked for quality and for aesthetics, and for our part we will crack down on pirate marketing. Not to mention the chance of promoting our products. I’ll give you one simple example. We have already prepared the Mediterranean diet basket for athletes and guests from select Greek-grown products, which is a splendid opportunity to present them to the whole world. What I mean is that the Olympiad has many aspects and creates even more opportunities. I firmly believe that it impels the country forward and we are winning the gamble. Let’s go on to the matter of preparation. How far has it progressed? There are just 20 months left, and the crucial question is how ready we are so that we have the fewest surprises in the final stages. We are already practicing, drawing up alternative plans and scenarios, trying to consider every case so we can deal with any unexpected event. That’s why we want the projects ready ahead of time. The ideal would be to have all the stadiums and installations ready by August, so that all the test events could be held together and we could have a strong trial run, but that isn’t possible.