NEWS

Main Olympic stadium to be ready just before Games

Work to refurbish the main Olympic stadium – with a new roof – will be finished less than a month before the opening ceremonies under a timetable that leaves «no alternative solution,» a construction chief said yesterday. The goal of having the stadium fully ready by July 20 means vital pre-Olympic test events and rehearsals for the opening ceremony will occur with work crews still on the site. The tight schedule also leaves no room for major adjustments if needed. «There is no alternative solution. This is the solution and it will happen,» said Dimitris Kalitsantzis, managing director for the construction firm supervising the project. The stadium – the centerpiece of the Games – is the most glaring example of the widespread delays to build or upgrade venues. «We are moving right at the edge,» Deputy Culture Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said after inspecting the site. Her ministry coordinates Olympic preparations. Palli-Petralia was also angered that no one was working at the site of the nearby aquatic center, which is also missing a roof. That roof is needed to shelter athletes from Athens’s blazing August sun and to improve the quality of TV coverage. The previous contractor was unable to finish the job due to technical problems and a new one will be hired to build a plastic roof for the pool. The International Olympic Committee has given organizers until the end of the month to make critical decisions about whether to scale back or cancel some behind-schedule works, including widening the classic marathon route and adding a glass-and-steel roof to the main stadium. Kalitsantzis said the stadium will include a finished roof, all technical requirements and landscaping. He did not have details about other delayed venues, which are being handled by other construction companies. One long-delayed project is a tram line linking central Athens with a major seaside Olympic sports complex being built at Hellenikon, site of Athens’s old airport. Olympic planners consider the tram a vital part of efforts to overcome Athens’s traffic chaos during the Games. Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said fears the tramway probably wouldn’t have been ready for the Games were justified, and ordered round-the-clock work. «At today’s pace, there may not have been enough time to finish the project for the Olympics. I made it clear to all involved that we will not allow any more delays,» Liapis said after an inspection visit. Visiting the Hellenikon Sports Complex, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said most of the seven venues being built there should be ready by early June. A number of test events have already been held at the site. The complex includes venues for baseball, softball, basketball, field hockey, fencing and a whitewater kayak course. Souflias, however, complained that little or no work has been done to landscape the area or clean up construction material. «The problems are many and we have to deal with them,» Souflias said. The new government has tried to accelerate projects and ease IOC worries that Athens has too much to accomplish in too little time. Former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the new government was inflating problems to reap accolades if works are completed. «This is an unjust impression and it hurts the image of the country,» said Venizelos, who was the top Olympic planner in the former Socialist administration. «They are creating a climate of uncertainty for no reason.»