Soccer venue is secured

A place to host the Olympic soccer final has finally been found, if works can finish on time. In an often acrimonious meeting lasting over four hours, the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) decided late last night to yield ownership of Piraeus’s Karaiskaki Stadium to the General Secretariat for Sports. The government has been committed to leasing the run-down stadium for a period of 30 to 49 years to Olympiakos soccer club. In turn, Olympiakos has undertaken the refurbishment of the stadium in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Works will begin in January and the initial budget is about 30 million euros. The completed soccer field will seat 40,000 but will not include the track it currently contains. This plan, submitted by Olympiakos long ago, was opposed by HOC. Lately, HOC had modified its position by demanding that the State build a track next to Karaiskaki. In the end, 17 of HOC’s 35 members voted for the proposal to hand over Karaiskaki Stadium. Eleven dissented, one cast a blank vote and six did not attend yesterday’s meeting. Indicative of the tension, and the pressure exercised on members, were the declarations of two of them, including a former secretary-general for sports, Yiannis Sgouros, that they felt «humiliated and degraded.» Both ended up voting for the proposal. The final vote was announced by HOC President Lambis Nikolaou, also a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Committee, who was among the dissenters. Nikolaou did not provide details about what HOC will get in return. The Karaiskaki Stadium, along with AEK’s Nikos Goumas Stadium, also in need of refurbishment, were the only venues capable of hosting Olympic soccer in Athens, given the fact that, for scheduling reasons, the Olympic Stadium will be unavailable. The government and Games organizers proposed the 17,000-seat Rizoupoli Stadium to the IOC, but IOC officials were opposed to that solution. Progress is also being made in security arrangements for the Games. Greek armed forces will provide a 7,500-strong force to the Ministry of Public Order to enhance security, Deputy Defense Minister Lazaros Lotidis announced yesterday. Lotidis also announced the creation of an Olympic Health Unit, with 800 members and added that the Defense Ministry will soon acquire the necessary equipment for three radio and biological warfare units, «to confront asymmetrical threats,» he said. It is the first time Greece is being equipped to face possible attacks by terrorists using biological or radioactive agents. Greece is spending upwards of $650 million on security measures for the Olympics.

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