HOC split over soccer stadium

The Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), owner of the capital’s Karaiskaki Stadium, will convene today to decide whether it should accept a government plan to transfer the venue’s control to Olympiakos soccer club for a long-term period in exchange for the stadium’s refurbishment ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Olympiakos, which hosted its home games at the stadium for decades before moving north to the capital’s Olympic Stadium, has been locked in fruitless negotiations with the rundown venue’s owner for Karaiskaki Stadium’s control. The club has offered to cover refurbishment costs on the condition that it eliminates the stadium’s existing running track, but the HOC’s board wants to retain it. The dispute has kept the stadium’s facelift on hold and forced Games organizer Athens 2004 to seek another stadium to host the Olympiad’s soccer final. The proposed alternative, the recently revamped Rizoupolis Stadium, has been flatly rejected by the International Olympic Committee as substandard. The IOC has since applied pressure on the Greek government to reinstate Karaiskaki Stadium as the venue for Olympic soccer games and the final. The government announced last week that Olympiakos would be granted control of the stadium for between 30 to 50 years in exchange for its refurbishment in time for the Olympics, accepting Olympiakos’s demand. Alternative sporting facilities have been offered to the HOC as compensation. The government could revise existing legislation to overcome any HOC resistance, but would prefer to move ahead with the committee’s approval. In a timely gesture ahead of today’s meeting, Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Lianis announced yesterday that extraordinary funds worth nearly 2.5 million euros would be granted to 28 national sports federations. According to reports, the decision at today’s HOC board meeting could go either way, as the members appear to be split. While they all accept that Olympiakos should return to Karaiskaki Stadium, some disagree on the soccer club’s condition of eliminating the venue’s running track. Lambis Nikolaou, HOC president and IOC executive member, yesterday described the proposed exchange deal as unbalanced. «What sort of exchange are they talking about? We’re not a company. They want the stadium, which, along with surrounding areas, is 7.5 hectares in size and is well located in exchange for a plot of land somewhere else,» he said. «As a plot of land alone, the stadium has tremendous value,» he added. He also criticized the soccer club’s decision to negotiate the stadium’s future through the government rather than directly with the HOC.

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