NEWS

IOC raises alarm over 2004

LAUSANNE (Combined reports) – The International Olympic Committee’s top officials yesterday handed Athens a blunt warning about their organization of the 2004 Games yesterday, just 18 months away from the opening ceremony. «It is a serious situation,» IOC President Jacques Rogge said. «Time is critical and a sense of urgency needs to be found.» The stiff reprimand was delivered at a meeting between the IOC Executive Board and Athens 2004 chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. Reports said she swept out of the IOC’s Lausanne headquarters stony-faced after the extensive grilling, without speaking to waiting reporters. «She had a face like thunder during the meeting,» said one executive board member, Agence France-Presse reported. «The good rhythm noticed six weeks ago during my visit has slowed down,» Rogge said. «We were expecting the situation in several areas to be resolved, namely the signing of the security tender, the rebuilding of the Karaiskaki soccer stadium and the construction delays that could affect the staging of test events. This is not the case today and we are therefore concerned,» he added. «There is no question of the Games taking place in Athens – what is at stake here is the quality of the Games. Mrs Angelopoulos and her team have our full support and we are confident that solutions will be found very quickly to ensure the success of the Games,» Rogge said. «We expressed our concerns and have sent a message to the prime minister,» he added. «But now 10 days, a month, six weeks has vital importance… That’s why we’re concerned. That’s why they cannot afford to lose a single day.» Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is in charge of the government’s Olympic efforts, replied: «All these issues have been discussed repeatedly with the IOC and it is well known that the final timetables are completely under control. But it is beneficial for the IOC president to note these problems because this helps shape the necessary climate in the country.» Venizelos said problems were caused by issues that were beyond the government’s control, such as court cases brought by municipal authorities objecting to projects or contractors contesting projects. «These are agents that a government in a democracy cannot control,» he said. Rogge stressed security. «The fact they have not signed the tender for security is of most concern,» he said. «It is getting late and security is one of the most important elements. We were told six weeks ago that it was a matter of days away. It still has not been signed. This does not allow much time for training the people.» An Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) spokesman, Andonis Fourlis, told reporters the contract would be signed within 10 days, The Associated Press reported. A government spokesman told Reuters, «We will have a reaction to this on Monday when we have the Cabinet meeting on the Olympics.» In 2000, the IOC had warned Athens to speed up work or risk losing the Games. PM Costas Simitis then appointed Angelopoulos-Daskalaki to head ATHOC. Rogge said preparations in Athens reminded him of the theme music from the award-winning 1964 movie «Zorba the Greek.» «It starts very slowly, then it accelerates,» said Rogge. «The tune’s now slowing down again.» Regarding Karaiskaki Stadium in Piraeus, Rogge said, «If the construction doesn’t begin in due time there will be no soccer in Athens.» (Kathimerini, Reuters, AP, AFP)