NEWS

The real test will be when the Games start

“The big test will be during the Olympics,» says Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, adding that everything humanly possible has been done to achieve the best result for the Olympics. ATHOC is now racing against time to deal with any urgent problems at the venues. As Angelopoulos-Daskalaki says, «In any case, some last-minute intervention would be needed.» «Hour by hour, the difference in the venues and the level of preparation is already apparent,» she explains, since «we can make quick decisions and fix anything that crops up. Even if the venues had been delivered two years ago, we would still have had to work up until the last minute. There is always a more perfect solution. We want to attend to the final details.» Reversing the climate The ATHOC president appears certain that Greeks have a positive attitude toward the Olympic Games. The caution that stemmed chiefly from the prolonged inconvenience caused by the construction of infrastructure projects seems to be turning around, and – at the last minute – the stadiums will not be empty. She notes that a survey conducted in July for Athens 2004 showed «unanimous acceptance of the Games and an increased willingness on the part of Athenians to stay in the capital in August.» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki cites ticket sales figures: «We started out with sales of about 4,000 tickets a day, we got to 13,000 and now we have exceeded 24,000 a day. The stadiums will be full,» she adds, despite the fact that in mid-June, 3 million of the 5.3 million tickets for the Games remained unsold. The ATHOC president expected even fewer to be sold, given that Greeks get interested at the last minute. ATHOC attributes the improved climate to the fact that «people see the works are completed; they feel certain and self-confident and so their expectations have been raised.» Now observers of the preparations are interested in the operational aspect of the Olympic Games, which is the chief responsibility of ATHOC. Will all the systems (such as technology and energy systems) and the staff match up to the organizers’ high requirements? Do last-minute emergencies (for instance the recent telephone telephone blackout in the northern suburbs and power outages) present a negative picture of what is to come? «We have managed to test all the venues,» says Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, adding that all the backup systems are working satisfactorily. As for accreditation (thousands of people need entry permits to the venues), she says that ATHOC «is issuing about 3,000 accreditations a day.» Some people believe that the public have not had time to accustom themselves to the new infrastructure. «The public are willing to help and capable of rising to the occasion,» says the ATHOC president. ATHOC is on alert 24 hours a day. The first briefing is at 6 a.m., followed by a meeting at 7, and an IOC briefing at 8.30 a.m. «We have come a long way from where we started, with just 137 people and some fields,» says Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. A central part in coordinating activities is played by the Games Management Center (MOK), on whose screens every problem or emergency registers. Lost time has been made up for by the superhuman efforts made by thousands of public servants, ATHOC and on the work sites. Officials from ATHOC and the government visit the venues and stadiums on a daily basis. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki repeats her declaration that «the Athens Games will be unique.» Recently IOC president Jacques Rogge said that nobody would say about another organizing country what his predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch had said about Sydney (that they were the best Games ever), yet Athens will inevitably be compared with the Sydney Games. «I don’t fear comparison with Sydney,» says the ATHOC president. «What I want is for people to see the Games as unique, to say they were colorful, there were records and successes, that people celebrated and the traffic was good.» «This is the first time an organizing country has held the Olympic Games with so many modern sports and other venues. For the first time the cameras will show not just what is happening in the Games, but will focus on what’s happening outside the stadiums. We have unique archaeological monuments, some of which are directly connected with the Olympic Games such as the Panathenaic stadium and Ancient Olympia, where the shot put event will be held.» Interchanges and roads have been delivered, the new tramway and railway are in operation, and in the 12 days remaining till the opening ceremony the battle will shift to the interior of the venues and the services the athletes and the rest of the Olympic family will receive, mainly from ATHOC. «Already, with the first journalists coming to the press village and the first athletes, we are being judged,» says Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, but she adds that «the big test will be on August 13.» Many matters are still outstanding, mainly due to lack of time to test venues and operations, but both the government and ATHOC are optimistic. They know that the next two weeks demand a sprint to the finish line to deal with vital matters such as venue security and last-minute problems. They also know, as does Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, that the success of their efforts will be judged in late September when the last Paralympic athlete leaves.