Foot-dragging before Games

With less than six months to go before the opening of the Athens Olympic Games, the country is anxious and uncertain about the remaining preparations. Projects which are crucial not only for the appearance and the symbolism of the Games but for the actual organization of the event are seriously lagging, and their completion date has been postponed for June (even this date begins to look over-optimistic). The strict deadlines leave no space for unforeseen delays in the timetable and they leave very little time to install and test the security and television broadcast systems. An overview of the key sports venues and other Olympics-related projects which are behind schedule illustrates the size of the problem. The much-hyped steel-and-glass dome, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is lagging due to questions about the statics of the structure. This problem is also pushing back the works to upgrade the area surrounding the stadium. The marathon route under construction to the east of Athens is left unfinished following the construction firm’s financial difficulties. Sections of the urban rail and tram networks have been trimmed. Even officials who express certainty that Olympic projects will be ready on time, including IOC chief inspector Denis Oswald (in a statement made to The New York Times), point out that Athens has to carry out a disproportionate workload in the time left until the opening ceremony, compared to past hosts of the Games. Greek citizens can only feel deep disappointment and pessimism. Our country won the bid to organize the Games in 1997. We knew the difficulties involved, we had all the time to assess the scope of the endeavor, to estimate the cost and decide what could be implemented or abandoned as superfluous or too difficult. Rather, the country wasted three entire years and was then caught up in grandiose plans like Calatrava’s roof project for the Olympic Stadium and other controversial projects that were not included in the original bid, like the tram network. And now we are struggling to find patchwork solutions to problems that were caused by our own frivolity and foot-dragging. These troubles, albeit on a more serious dimension, have the same roots as the paralysis and confusion of government officials following last week’s heavy storm. Also in that case, we knew what was coming. The forecast and warnings by the National Meteorological Service were timely and accurate. And yet, we were caught unprepared (and, perhaps, also indifferent) to ensure smooth traffic flow on the costly and recently inaugurated Attiki Odos highway. One cannot help wonder: if we can’t sweep away half a meter of snow, what chance have we got with the dome?