An ebullient IOC praises preparations

Saving their best news for last, the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission for the Athens 2004 Olympics gave a surprisingly rousing and across-the-board «message of confidence» and endorsement of the preparations yesterday, at the conclusion of their 12th and final inspection before this August’s Games. «In the past, we had doubts about some of the venues, some of the infrastructure, some of the construction, and I’m very happy to report that all these doubts have disappeared,» said the commission’s chairman, Denis Oswald, at yesterday’s press conference. Now the focus turns to the organizational aspect of the Games. «Because of the late delivery of the infrastructures and the venues, the time remaining for the operations, the integration of the different aspects of operations, is limited,» Oswald said. «Only later, just before the Games, a full test at Games scale will be possible, and that’s why we have to work very hard on this operational aspect to make sure that everything works perfectly during the Games.» Oswald said that there was no single venue that was in trouble. All were «green,» code for making good progress. Fifteen venues (both sport and non-sport) are ready and others are at least 85 percent done. Oswald heaped praise on the organizers and on the Greek government – both the present New Democracy one and the previous, PASOK one. In turn, Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki scattered praise for the IOC, volunteers and Athens 2004 staffers who will be crucial to the Games’ ultimate success. «We had very good news about construction, and of course the most symbolic one is the sliding of the roof,» Oswald said, referring to the main stadium. The first half of the roof is expected to be in place tomorrow. «It’s a sign of the capacity of Greece to achieve such a fantastic work, and if they can do that, they can certainly do all the rest.» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said, «Athens will be great for the athletes, and Greece good for the Games.» She noted that the IOC had warned Greece with a «yellow card» in 2000. «Since then we have done seven years’ work in just four years’ time. This is a fact, and this is a proof of what we Greeks can do when we work in a focused and professional way,» she said. The security technical infrastructure is to be delivered by May 28, and for that reason cannot be tested until June, though IOC experts are confident it won’t be a problem. Transport will remain a worry until the Games – Oswald specifically cited the Sydney Games as an example of initial transport problems resolved quickly – although the journalists were assured that both the tram and the suburban railway will be «commercially operational» by July 15. With both these backbones of the new transport system still incomplete with three months to go, Marton Simitsek of Athens 2004 interjected that a major transport simulation exercise had been undertaken this week, with great success – though any such success remains virtual, and thus partial. Security, foremost in the minds of most, received fervent assurances. «From the beginning, we have put the safety and security of athletes and spectators first. This summer, no nation will be doing more than Greece to protect those within its borders. No organizing committee and no host government has ever put greater emphasis on safety and security,» said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. The only discordant note concerned the Australian government’s travel advisory regarding Greece. Oswald pronounced himself «surprised and disappointed» after having heard a positive assessment just two days ago to the seven-member Olympic security advisory committee, which includes an Australian. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki added that «it conveys a misimpression, and is unfair» to Greece.