Denis Oswald: Concern and hope for 2004

What is your biggest surprise on this visit, positive and negative? The surprise – and maybe actually I shouldn’t be surprised because it’s not the first time it happens – but it’s how quickly things can move from time to time. You know, we have the feeling that we’re in a deadlock in a specific area, and sometimes very quickly there are solutions. And we had a kind of pre-visit led by Gilbert Felli about 10 days ago, so we know a bit more about what we have to expect and where we have to focus our attention, and the report they gave later is no longer accurate. Maybe because of the pressure, but the government and ATHOC [the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee]  have been quite active in the areas where we have concern, and things have been progressing positively in these areas, and then, maybe the positive surprise is how quickly things can move forward. But the negative is that sometimes there are new problems which were not expected and which were maybe not necessary, where we sometimes have the feeling that procedures are different, that the ways to approach things are different, and they sometimes take more time. We were told some time ago that there was an agreement, for example, regarding this security contract, but it is not yet signed. They have to move forward, but the administration is sometimes quite heavy. And it slowed things down. You have the feeling that you’ve reached the point where the problem is solved, but actually it is not, until it’s really on paper. The dotted line Do you think the coming of the Coordination Commission speeds things up in itself? Yes, this has been our experience. Each time they knew we were coming, it forced some solutions, it pushed people to act quickly, because they wanted to present some results. Well, it was maybe more obvious at other visits, the day before, two days before, a contract was signed. We were waiting a long time for this contract, and it’s not just by accident that it was just the day before we arrived. What happened with the security contract, because it was announced several weeks ago? Yes, it was announced, which was why we expressed our dissatisfaction in the middle of February, because the PM, when we visited in January, said it was just a question of days to finalize the contact, and in the middle of February there was no agreement and no contract. In the meantime, they negotiated the price down, and apparently they got a very substantial discount, and I understand that it’s a lot of money, and it may justify taking more time. And now they have an agreement, but they still have to finalize the contract. I’m a lawyer by profession, and I know that such a contract is not easy to make, and you have to cover every point with the other party, but the concern is that the company will need 12 months to produce the equipment. And they won’t really start producing it until they have a signed contract. And as this decision has been delayed already, we are concerned that it could take more time until the works start. And after the 12 months needed to produce the equipment, they will have to be put in place, to be tested, and the people will have to be trained. And it’s why we need time before the Games, to test the people and the equipment. And the more time we have, the more important it is. But I must say, as far as security is concerned, it seems – and it was repeated tonight by the ministers – that it’s only a question of days to finalize the contract. And on the security point, they had a big workshop these three days, with all the people involved, and I attended part of it with the minister of public order, and I must say we were impressed with the quality of work, and also our own experts had very positive comments about the preparation of the security aspect, and we are confident that all efforts are being made in order to have the highest possible level of security at the Games. Of course, it will never be 100 percent, but certainly all efforts are being made. I met the British ambassador [David Madden] this morning who is leading this group of seven countries helping Greece regarding security, and he was also quite positive about the relations and the preparation. At the same time, in a practical way, as head of the Commission, you have to think that we are now at April 2003, and we haven’t even signed the contract yet. Yes, it’s why there were two nights of, maybe not misunderstanding, but the ministers were wondering why we were worried in some areas. And I said, «Well, until it’s really done, until it’s really signed, until it’s really delivered, and you say you need six more months, there are question marks because always unexpected things can happen, and that’s one of the issues.» They said, «Yes, but it’s under control.» But I say, «Yes, it’s under control, but you cannot be 100 percent sure.» And my responsibility is to mention that, in these areas we hope and we’re confident that it will happen and be done on time – provided nothing unexpected will happen. And you can never exclude that something unexpected happens. It’s why I emphasize that we need your full attention and full dedication in order to make sure that it goes according to plan, and if it goes according to plan, yes, it will be finished, late but still finished on time for the Games. But you know, for example, some test events had to be postponed. What is your reaction to that? They say, «Oh, it’s not a problem, we’re still two months before the Games,» for example. The basketball tournament will take place in June [2004], but if you have test events, it’s in order to have the possibility of making the necessary adjustments. And especially as far as technology is concerned, or in other fields, if you identify the difficulties two months before, it might not be possible to make all necessary corrections and adjustments. And the other aspect is, if they take place late, in the last two months before the Games, they will require a lot of attention from ATHOC. It will put pressure on the people involved at a time when they should be dedicating their time completely to the Games. It’s the risk we have with this postponement of the tests. It’s not, as such, a big issue. But this, with the addition of other problems, means that we still have some concerns, and that we’ll only feel at peace when the Games are completed. I guess it’s the same with every Games. Yes, that’s something we have to admit. Even with Sydney, we remember the best Games ever, but there were a lot of problems on the way. But you forget them, because what you remember is what was delivered, and that was really good. I remember in Barcelona, which were considered also excellent Games, but on the morning of the competition, they were still painting the starting tower, and putting nails in it. It was also pretty much last-minute work. Probably the Olympic Games are the biggest event to organize in the world. There are also some big political conferences and so on, but they are on a certain occasion, last three days, are in one location, and you don’t need seven years to prepare. Limits of improvisation But we just don’t want them – and this should not be taken as an offense to the Greek people – to count too much on their capability to improvise. They always say, «We are very good at improvising.» And we recognize that. When you have one event to organize, you can improvise. But when you have such a huge thing, it’s difficult to improvise, because it has also to be coordinated. And there are things like roads, and stadiums, that cannot be improvised. Construction cannot happen overnight. Certainly we had a lot of examples. Today, the media center and the road [Attiki Odos]; it’s impressive, the progress. So they are able to kind of make miracles. I was at the [Olympic] Village recently, but I remember when I went there last time, I had been there nine months before, and there was nothing. And suddenly there were more than 360 houses, not totally finished, but most of them with a roof. Externally, they were pretty much finished, they still had to work inside, and this in less than nine months. And I’m sure there are not many countries in the world that can achieve that. So they have the capacity. It’s slow until they start the administrative procedure, because they also had some legal problems, because they are part of the European Union and they have to follow some international procedures, international tenders, etc., and, of course, some archaeological problems, but when they sign a contract, when they start, then it goes very fast. They are very efficient.