NEWS

2004 soccer: ‘Not a day to lose’

World soccer’s governing body, FIFA, told Greek Olympic organizers on Saturday they had «not a day to lose» in preparing venues for the 2004 tournament. After visiting five cities in five days, FIFA’s Olympic soccer coordinator Issa Hayatou said that progress had been made but that schedules remained tight with 17 months to go. «In all the places we have seen (except Athens), stadium construction is between 40 to 60 percent progressed,» Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football, told reporters. Qualifying group and knockout-phase matches will be spread across Greece at Thessaloniki, Patras, Volos, Iraklion and Athens. But Hayatou expressed concern that construction at the Karaiskaki ground in the southern Athens suburb of Neo Faliron – due to host the men’s and women’s finals – had yet to start. «We hope everything will be ready as guaranteed, there is not a day to lose,» he said. The government concluded a deal with Olympiakos Piraeus last month to lease them the Karaiskaki for the next 49 years in return for the club refurbishing the stadium in time to host Olympic matches. Work was initially scheduled to begin at the derelict ground in February. [On Saturday, the Athens 2004 organizing committee said demolition of the Karaiskaki stadium will start on April 7. It added that, «according to time schedules,» the 32,000-seat stadium will be ready in July 2004. The Games start in August.] The delays in building work have sparked local media reports that organizers will switch the soccer finals to the main Olympic Stadium in Maroussi. The inspection tour was the second visit in less than three months by a FIFA working party to check up on preparations for 2004. (Reuters)