NEWS

Rogge rings alarm

In an unexpectedly sharp message on the Athens Olympic preparations, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said yesterday there was «still a lot to do» in the five-and-a-half months remaining to finish the various projects. He also obliquely questioned whether the Games themselves would run smoothly, although officials later tempered this with a more upbeat assessment. Speaking at a joint session of the IOC’s Executive Board and the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), Rogge said that if construction continues at the current (breakneck) pace, all projects would be completed. However, he warned that other programs could hinge on how the Athens Games turn out, namely a rise in the budget for Olympic Solidarity, a key revenue-sharing program to help national Olympic committees. This rise would be forthcoming only «if the Athens Games run smoothly and, I repeat, if they run smoothly.» He called his assessment a «strong message that has been conveyed» to the organizers, while recalling the IOC’s «yellow card» warning to Athens in 2000. Athens 2004 chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki affirmed the «serious challenges» still awaiting and the need for «a great effort,» citing the main stadium and swimming pool roofs, the marathon race route, the tram and the suburban rail project. She added a note of optimism, praising the «flawless delivery» of the 20 pre-Olympic sports events, with 25 still to come. She said, «We haven’t come this far to let challenges like these stop us now,» and that the Games are now «so close you can almost reach out and touch them.» Gilbert Felli, IOC executive director, later confirmed that the projects could be completed if no more delays occur. He even called the IOC «very happy» with the sports facilities. And despite the crush of time, he said that the IOC was not planning for a no-roof contingency for the main stadium, which would show a lack of confidence in work under way. He also praised the technological infrastructure as better than at any previous Games as measured by test events so far. Last evening, the IOC also announced that the Iraqi Olympic Committee, suspended on May 17, 2003, has been officially reinstated to the Olympic movement after a decision by the IOC’s Executive Board. This brings the number of national contingents invited to the Games to a highest-ever 202. Rogge also assured that «all possible scenarios are accounted for» in security planning.