NEWS

Bill for Games rises

The cost of the Athens Olympics has been revised upwards to at least 7.5 billion euros, Finance Ministry sources told Kathimerini. In recent years, government assessments of Olympics-related costs have been rising faster and higher than the airship which floated over Athens as part of the huge security operation during the Games. In 1997, when Athens won the right to host the Games, government officials did not expect the cost to exceed 2 billion euros. Less than three months ago, Finance Minister, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, told a parliamentary committee that the cost of the Games would increase from 4.6 billion euros to 6 billion euros. Ministry officials say the previous PASOK government had presented a fictitious budget and had stuck with the unrealistic total of 4.6 billion euros until their election defeat in March. PASOK officials claim the New Democracy government is overestimating the total bill, and have demanded a detailed breakdown of the costs. Finance Ministry officials point out that Olympics accounts are included in public finance figures, an area that has proved extremely controversial recently. The current government has discovered that the 2003 budget actually had a 4.6 percent deficit compared to the 0.5 percent GDP surplus that former Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis had presented in his preliminary budget for the same year. The government says that, of the 7.5-billion-euro Olympic budget, 6.6 billion euros came from the Public Investment Program, 600 million euros from the state budget and 300 million from the state budget for the Athens 2004 organising committee. What is certain is that there were several key factors which caused Athens’s Olympic budget to spiral dangerously. The high-flying zeppelin may provide a partial explanation. The Athens Olympics were the first to be held in a post-September 11 world, and organizers spent around 1 billion euros on security alone, more than three times what was spent at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The government was forced to pay contractors premiums in order to ensure everything was completed on time. Equally, officials had to contend with demands from civil servants, police and others to be paid an Olympic bonus worth 2,500 euros each.