NEWS

Olympic misgivings

With the deadline for the start of the Athens Olympics looming less than three months away, a parliamentary committee briefing on the state of preparations yesterday turned into an exchange of accusations between the government and the PASOK main opposition party which had been in charge of preparations before it lost the March 7 elections. At the center of the clash was the declaration by Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, who is in charge of some of the most important Olympics-related projects, that he was among those who had questioned the wisdom of Greece’s undertaking to host the Games. Another bone of contention was the expected cost of the Olympics. Giorgos Lianis, a former deputy minister in charge of sports under PASOK, said that the Olympic budget would stand at 4.6 billion euros. But Souflias and Alternate Culture Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia, who has the day-to-day supervision of preparations, said the Games would exceed their budget by hundreds of millions of euros. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis charged that nothing had been done in recent years to promote the Games, while Athens 2004 Organizing Committee head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki countered that success would be determined between August 13-29, when the Games will be held. «The hard work is starting to show,» she said. Addressing the Cultural Affairs Committee, Souflias said, «I still have doubts as to whether we should have undertaken the Olympic Games.» At the time the Games were awarded to Athens in 1997, over 90 percent of Greeks were in favor of hosting the Olympics. Later he explained that he was expressing his concern regarding the cost of the Games and that Athens would put on a very successful Olympiad. He promised that all projects would be ready on time, including the marathon route, which has been one of the biggest problems in the preparations. «We are working night and day to make the Games a success,» Souflias said. PASOK MPs on the committee reacted angrily to Souflias’s statement and his claim that Public Works Ministry projects would cost 2.2 billion euros rather than the 1.6 billion budgeted for. They also objected to Palli-Petralia’s claim that Culture Ministry projects would exceed their budget by more than 520 million euros.