NEWS

Race against the clock to complete Olympic Games venues on time and in working order

A year before the Olympic flame is to be lit in Athens, the venues for the events are entering their final phase. Government officials responsible for monitoring Olympics preparations appear convinced that everything will be completed on schedule, even if for some of them work will have to continue through the night. The authorities’ biggest nightmare concerns the last few days before the Games when a number of different contractors will be working at the same site. Further problems will arise if a particular stadium is not completed on schedule, not leaving enough time for the security systems to be installed. Representatives of the SAIC-Siemens consortium, which has the contract for the security installations, are reportedly on tenterhooks. The question of the overall cost continues be shrouded in mystery, since the bill is always sent after the event. Government officials do not appear to be concerned about accusations that the original budget has been overstepped. The opposition New Democracy party claims the delays are due to bad management, though the government says the problems are due to changes that needed to be made as work progressed in order to improve the installations. The winners, of course, are the major construction firms that have undertaken to complete the projects at extremely low discounts (for one project, the discount was just 0.01 percent), within the framework of a «gentlemen’s agreement.» They will also receive huge bonuses in order to get the work finished on time. As for term «on time,» this is a relative concept. Since not one venue has yet been completed, the test events held last month were rechristened «sport events.» The government and the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee were forced to rename the events because, according to the International Olympic Committee, the term «test event» means a full dress rehearsal on site. This did not happen in August because at one site the security was only partly tested and at another the traffic arrangements were not complete. On the other hand, experienced members of the multinational firms who have taken part in many Olympiads say that at nearly all of them there were venues that were completed on the eve of the Games. Even before the last Winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City in the USA, executives of Schlumberger-SEMA, the IOC’s international technology sponsor, had to work up until the eve of the Games in order to install all the necessary systems at some of the venues. According to the government’s timetable, the first of the venues will be completed by the end of this year and most of them by the second half of 2004, that is, just a few weeks before the Games themselves begin. Executives overseeing the preparations claim that the tight deadlines have increased the risk of mistakes and hope that nothing will go wrong during the Games themselves. On the other hand, they say that the quality of the Games is not just a matter of infrastructure but of services for the athletes, spectators and the IOC. If it is the government that will be under the microscope for its preparation of the venues, it is Athens 2004 that is responsible for the way they function and the services provided.