Soccer venue OK’d

Karaiskaki Stadium was approved yesterday by international soccer federation FIFA as the venue to host soccer qualifiers and the final during the Athens 2004 Olympics. A delegation of FIFA officials, led by Vice President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, visited both Karaiskaki and Rizoupoli stadiums. The latter, a 17,000-seat facility recently refurbished to serve as temporary home ground to defending champion Olympiakos, was rejected out of hand by FIFA. «We unanimously decided that the originally proposed stadium does not meet our conditions, because the Olympic Games… draw crowds that exceed the capacity of the stadium,» Hayatou said after the visit. The FIFA delegation was shown plans for the refurbishment of Karaiskaki Stadium by architects Stelios Agiostratitis and Christos Kourtis. The stadium, owned by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, will be leased on a long-term basis – up to 49 years – to Olympiakos, which had long used the now-dilapidated Piraeus venue as its home ground. On the government’s part, Secretary-General for the Olympic Games Costas Kartalis reassured FIFA that the lease agreement will be signed by January 10 and that works will commence immediately after. «We have no reason not to believe what the government representative told us. However, we are slightly worried concerning the timetable, because there are 20 months left until the Games. Still, if all the assurances given are adhered to, there will be no problem,» Hayatou said. The Olympic soccer tournament will be played from Aug. 11, 2004 – two days before the opening ceremony – to Aug. 29, the last day of the Games. Qualifiers will also take place in Patras, Thessaloniki, Volos and Iraklion, where stadiums are either under construction or are being refurbished.

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