Greeks get Olympics-size bill

The final bill for the August Olympic Games, the most expensive in history, was set yesterday at just under 9 billion euros – almost twice the official estimates provided earlier this year by the previous, Socialist government. Two-and-a-half months after the final party for the Games of the 28th Modern Olympiad drew to a close, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said the vast undertaking had cost a total of 8.95 billion euros, based on a report by the General Accounting Office. This was the greatest sum ever spent on a single undertaking since the foundation of the modern Greek state, corresponding with a 20th of the country’s annual gross domestic product. It does not include money spent on major infrastructure works such as the Attiki Odos highway, the new Athens airport and the new tram and suburban railway networks – which although not directly linked with the hosting of the Games were accelerated ahead of the event. When Greece was awarded the Games in 1997, the Olympic budget was set at 750 billion drachmas (2.2 billion euros). The most recent figures provided by the PASOK government, which was in charge of Olympic preparations until its election defeat in March 2004, set the bill at 4.6 billion. «The Olympic Games were a great investment for Greece which was worth the while, but the Greek people should also know exactly how much they cost,» Alogoskoufis told journalists, following a special session of the Inner Cabinet under Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. He added that «a very small segment» of the cost would be included in the 2005 state budget. Deputy Culture Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia – after Karamanlis, the top government Olympics official – said the Games had been «very successful, very safe and very expensive.» Most of the cost (7.2 billion euros) was covered by the state budget, while expenses of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, headed by Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, reached 1.75 billion, 210 million euros less than the figure given earlier. The organizing committee’s budget was balanced by revenue from broadcasting rights, sponsorship deals, ticket sales and official Games merchandise. The most expensive part was the Olympic infrastructure (2.86 billion), which accounted for 39.7 percent of the total bill. Sports venues and their equipment cost 2.15 billion (29.9 percent), and 1.08 billion (15 percent) was spent on security. The Public Works Ministry had the biggest budget (2.29 billion, or 35 percent of the total), closely followed by the Culture Ministry and its General Secretariat for Sport (2.2 billion, or 34 percent of the total). Regional authorities – Olympic soccer events were held in Thessaloniki, Volos, Patras and Iraklion – spent 673 million euros. PASOK flatly denied yesterday that the Games had cost more than 5 billion euros, accusing the government of releasing «a Mickey Mouse bill,» in the phrasing of party spokesman Nikos Athanassakis. «They ignored all that was positive and added on whatever they felt like,» he said. PASOK officials argued that Alogoskoufis should have left out the organizing committee’s budget, as well as funds spent on a facelift for the center of Athens, hospital and transportation improvements and the new Stavros-Rafina highway in eastern Attica. Synaspismos Left Coalition said the figures presented yesterday amounted to a «dramatic confirmation» of the party’s forecasts, expressing fears that the true cost might be even greater.