Celebrations cannot hide 2004 worries

The one-year countdown to the Athens Olympics was celebrated yesterday with ceremonies in Lausanne, headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and concerts in four Greek cities but was also overshadowed by a row over security and concerns that organizers still have some way to go before they get the operational part right. In Lausanne, IOC President Jacques Rogge formally extended invitations to a record 201 national Olympic committees, up from the 197 invited to the Sydney Olympics. The new additions are East Timor, Kiribati, Afghanistan and Iraq. «The athletes will be ready, the media are ready, the international federations, the officials and judges are ready,» Rogge said, pausing to look at Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. «The organizing committee will be ready in due time,» he added. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki promised Athens would organize a «magical Games.» «A year from today, as the Olympic flame shines above Athens, the systematic and hard work by all involved will be recognized,» she said. Long criticized about falling behind in the building of venues, the organizers and the government must still fight doubts, expressed in local and international media, about the level of services to be delivered. These doubts have been fed by certain mishaps during the first of seven test events taking place this month. Yesterday, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) moved to quell a row that erupted after an interview he gave to a Melbourne newspaper in which he appeared to cast doubts over Athens’s ability to provide adequate security. «We are satisfied they are doing everything possible in terms of security,» John Coates, the AOC president, said, adding that the team would take with them four, unarmed, police officers to advise athletes «on safety precautions when they go downtown.» The immediate concerns of the organizers include the three test events that will begin simultaneously tomorrow. They include an equestrian event at Markopoulo, the canoe and kayak flat-water event at Schinias and the Under-23 European Road Cycling Championships. In the latter event, the individual time trial will take place tomorrow on a course around Vouliagmeni and a road race on Sunday in the center of Athens. The two races will necessitate several changes in bus and trolley bus schedules. Tomorrow, certain bus routes to Vouliagmeni and Varkiza will be affected from 10.30 a.m. to 7 p.m., while Athinas, Poseidonos and Souniou avenues, up to the Aghia Marina junction and roads leading into Vouliagmeni and Varkiza will be closed to traffic between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. On Saturday afternoon, certain roads in central areas of Athens will close to traffic from 5 to 7 p.m. for the cyclists’ training session. On Sunday, traffic will be halted completely from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. along the course, which begins at Omonia Square and goes through Patission and Alexandras avenues, Ippocratous St, Academias Ave and Kanari St up to and around Lycabettus Hill, Gennadiou St, Vassilisis Sophias and Amalias avenues, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Apostolou Pavlou, Ermou and Athinas streets. Traffic will be closed on Stadiou Street as well as several roads leading to it. Bus schedules will be heavily affected from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.