IOC praises Athens 2004 preparations

«Athens is really taking up an Olympic shape,» Denis Oswald, chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission, told reporters yesterday at the end of a three-day inspection tour of preparations for the 2004 Games. Oswald had offered words of encouragement before; this, however, was the first time his praise was so effusive and the positive points clearly outnumbered the areas of concern. «We are much more confident (about the success of the Athens Olympics) than we were some time ago,» Oswald said. The Commission chief cited road building, public transport and venue construction as «areas of special satisfaction» for the Commission. Oswald was questioned about the marked difference in tone with statements made earlier this week, before his arrival, to The Associated Press. He attributed this change to the briefing he had since been given by ministers and officials from Athens 2004, the Games organizers. «It is not a case of double language,» he said. Even a usually grumpy member of the Commission agreed that presentations had gone smoothly. «The only issue that we really debated at length was whether to give (organizers) until April to decide what to do with the Calatrava project,» he told Kathimerini. He was referring to the design of two steel-and-glass arches covering the Olympic stadium and the nearby cycling track, by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The project has been delayed due to a legal challenge by a losing bidder. Other areas of concern are the delay in the construction of a basketball arena at Hellenikon, the former Athens airport, and the current lack of an appropriate venue in Athens to stage soccer matches, both qualifiers and the final. Commission members were given a tour of what is currently the biggest available soccer ground, a 17,000-seater at Rizoupoli, and were not impressed. But Oswald preferred to pass the hot potato to FIFA, the international soccer federation. «It is their responsibility to decide,» he said. A FIFA team will tour this and other facilities on December 9-10.