NEWS

IOC’s ‘positive surprise’

Visiting International Olympic Committee officials were positively surprised by progress in the preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympics but did not hide the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done in the 993 days remaining until the start of the 28th Olympiad, on August 13, 2004. We were very positively surprised compared with our September visit… contracts have been signed and work (on venues) has started, but there is still a lot to do… it will be a race against the clock until the end, Denis Oswald, Chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission told reporters yesterday, at the conclusion of his two-day visit. This was not a visit by the full Commission; members focused on areas of concern, such as transportation, the Olympic Village, venue construction and accommodation. Yesterday morning, Oswald, having concluded his working sessions with organizers Athens 2004, successively visited Transport Minister Christos Verelis, Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Prime Minister Costas Simitis. I was impressed by (Simitis’s) knowledge of the problems… his action will be instrumental to ensure deadlines are met, Oswald said. After a period of relative neglect, Simitis was jolted into taking a closer look at Olympics preparations after a stern warning by then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, in May 2000. Since then, continuing delays in venue and infrastructure construction and bickering among ministers and between ministers and Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki has enhanced Simitis’s role as arbiter, appeaser and ultimate overseer of the preparations. Two of the items which Oswald asked Simitis to pay full attention to are transport and accommodation. The IOC is worried about the cancellation of certain road projects. Our principle is that no project can be canceled without a valid alternative solution, Oswald said. He added that IOC experts were studying alternatives to canceled projects submitted by the government. Accommodation is one of the knottiest issues facing the organizers. So far, Athens 2004 has booked 16,000 rooms, including 3,000 cabins on cruise ships. The Olympic family alone will require 19,000 rooms, and there will be thousands of visitors to house. According to Oswald, any new hotels must be built soon. If they do not start (building) by March or April 2002, they cannot be considered as options, he said. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki did not hide her annoyance at efforts by government officials, riled by her criticism of their performance, to belittle the importance of Athens 2004 and her own contribution. She enumerated the organizers’ many responsibilities and declared I am doing my job very well… let others do theirs.