Bitter truths on 2004 projects

Woeful is the only word that can express the state of readiness for the Olympic Games, just 1,000 days before they are due to start. The grand visions have dwindled to a struggle to compete the projects and manage the huge cost. Kathimerini published two confidential documents yesterday which reveal the dire state of affairs of the 2004 Games in Athens and the growing concern at IOC headquarters in Lausanne. One of the documents is a letter from IOC Vice President Denis Oswald to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head of Athens 2004, dated October 5, 2001. The IOC sent a copy of the letter to Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who responded with positive comments about Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, but without asking for her cooperation in writing his reply. We believe that the situation in the construction area is at risk. For the next meeting, for all the projects that have suffered delays in the last months, we would like to receive a detailed explanation about the measures that will be taken to ensure a final delivery on time, said Oswald in his letter on October 5, 2001. Some projects related to the Games that have been dropped or scaled down came as a great surprise to him, Oswald wrote. These decisions will have a substantial impact on operations at Games time. By reducing the construction time frame for three and a half years to nearly two years, the demand on the construction companies will be much more concentrated. Oswald also said the organizing committee should develop contingency plans to cope with the expected accommodation shortage. Another document, dated September 10, 2001, comprises tables from an internal IOC memorandum recording the progress made in constructing venues. It is from this document that the IOC’s red and yellow warnings to Athens derive. Projects at high risk that have already fallen behind are marked red, and projects that are at medium risk of falling behind are marked yellow. But some of the low-risk projects, which are marked green, are at even greater risk than some marked red, as the accompanying texts makes clear. The tables show that permits have not even been obtained for 90 percent of the projects, while about half of them are already marked yellow or red. The problem not only concerns sports installations, but also numerous regional, infrastructural and other projects which are incomplete. Oswald’s letter refers directly or indirectly to many of them. Incoming Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou found herself faced with some of these just a few days ago, which may be the cause of the anxiety she expressed to her predecessor Costas Laliotis. For example, Athens has promised the world a landmark Games but has not yet researched, let alone decided what the message will be. The issue of tickets and their distribution is another instance which cannot be decided until the location and capacity of the venues is known. The picture is even grimmer when it comes to regional and infrastructure projects. Without even taking into account the tourists that will visit Athens for the Games, accommodation will be required for at least 20,000 officials and members of the Olympic family. Attica simply does not have that number of hotel beds. Cruise ships are being considered as a solution, and the first of them has already been chartered. And there have been suggestions that island accommodation be offered, with special flights for the Games. Another outcome of the delays is that some of the leading international Games sponsors have begun to voice their dissatisfaction to the IOC. With preparations so far behind, it is clear that the only solution is to use tents and prefabricated buildings which will probably cost a fortune, because they would be a last-minute solution and not a deliberate choice, as in Atlanta. The hope that many of the Olympic installations might be put to use after the Games now seems baseless. The two documents explain certain recent events, such as the premier’s decision to appoint so many deputy ministers to prepare the Games and the transfer of certain crucial duties. The IOC no longer appears to have the unshakeable confidence it once did in Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, and the organization of the Games seems to be shifting away from the Athens 2004 committee. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos is apparently claiming, as ex-officio sports minister, the role played in Sydney by the Australian Olympics Minister Michael Knight, with whom Simitis met recently. But while Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is responsible for the organizational side, whose is the political responsibility? And who is going to tell the Greek people that, according to Athens 2004 calculations, the cost of the Games will treble to the astronomical sum of 3 trillion drachmas, which will totally disrupt the Greek economy and inevitably be funded exclusively through taxation? IOC notes delays in all sectors of preparation The data in the IOC tables reveal how the projects for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games have become almost irretrievably bogged down. Strange though it may seem, the 2004 nightmare is not confined to the many projects already marked red and yellow by the IOC, but includes those marked green. This is because many of the projects are classified green simply because they concern existing installations requiring repairs or renovation. Some of the projects marked yellow or green are also marked not available or to be confirmed, meaning that there are no data or no reliable data, which suggests that they are even further behind than others that are classified red. Permits have not even been issued for the vast majority of the projects. And there is a problem with dates: The projects marked green have changed in comparison with those of May 2001, and those marked red have changed in comparison with those of July 2001. The comments sum up the IOC’s most serious concerns about each project. Although the IOC obviously knows in detail the weak points of many projects marked green, they have decided not to mark them all red until February 2002. This is a final concession to the Greeks, who will invoke the changes the government has made in an attempt to play the issue down as much as possible at the November 21 meeting. But the situation is already desperate for the projects marked red – the equestrian, tennis, badminton and gymnastics venues. The venues The venue for the equestrian events at Markopoulo simply does not exist, nor have the most basic steps been taken, such as allocating the project. For various technical reasons, the cost of the project is enormous. All the construction firms that have submitted tenders have quoted prices way below costs. The existing tennis facilities cannot be satisfactorily upgraded, and it is as if they did not exist. Like Greek football grounds, the tennis courts do not have enough space for spectator stands, parking and other necessary infrastructure. A closer look at some of the venues marked green or yellow tells another story. The Kallimarmaro stadium is still marked green, yet the restoration works originally planned are no longer appropriate since the damage done by the earthquake in September 1999. The stadium cannot take thousands of spectators before supporting work has been done on the structure. No such work has been carried out or even surveyed. Nor has it been decided which events will be held there. As for the Olympics Center at Goudi, even the government has set a later date for its completion than the test event date. It was scheduled for August-September 2003, but the Public Works Ministry has officially announced a completion date of late January 2004. The swimming center will also not be ready until after the test event date. One of the chief difficulties is the installation of television equipment beside and inside the pool, which may call for pools of different dimensions. The Peace and Friendship Stadium in Faliron needs radical renovation, but since the building already exists, it has been marked green. Yet much work needs to be done. The only project that has reached the stage of the final survey is the architectural and operational renovation of the Olympic Stadium (OAKA) itself, although it too has overshot the test event date. But the model was on display at the Public Works Ministry’s exhibition at Syntagma metro station before tenders had been invited. One might wonder how the architect Santiago Calatrava, who became famous overnight in Greece, was chosen. Unfortunately, the report contains numerous such instances. Meanwhile, the former airport at Hellenikon is becoming the venue for more and more events: rowing, softball, the triathlon and cycling. In fact the area will be filled with tents and prefabricated buildings. That will be relatively easy to achieve, even though the tents will cost as much as concrete. But the sailing event might end up at Hellenikon, and that will need more than tents. The planned Esplanade, a pedestrian walkway in the Faliro Delta on the site of the former racetrack, which was announced with so much fanfare, seems destined to remain on paper. Similarly, nothing has been done about the tramway that was to connect the above projects with the seaside. On the other side of the city, plans to build three overpasses on Kifissias Avenue have already been canceled, and traffic snarls must be solved instead by the traffic police, according to Venizelos. In contrast, work on another overpass on Spirou Loui Avenue near OAKA, which experts say will do nothing to help traffic for the Games, has been included in the projects and is proceeding normally. One more detail is worth recalling: At the beginning of this whole story, it was generally thought that 70 percent of the projects were ready. But it was only the funds, not the works themselves, that were ready. That is no longer the case; the cost is skyrocketing and will become the government’s most serious fiscal problem, since not even 50 percent of the projects are ready for the Olympic Games.