Haggling over Karaiskaki works

A Sports Ministry news conference scheduled for yesterday, which was expected to provide Olympic-related news on the main soccer stadium’s revamp, has been postponed until tomorrow. According to sources, Sports Minister Giorgos Lianis will announce the starting date for refurbishment work on Karaiskaki Stadium in the Neo Faliron district, which will host soccer competition, including the final at the Athens 2004 Olympics. The stadium’s refurbishment project has been mired in conflicting interests and subsequent delays for months. Just weeks ago, the stadium’s owner, the state-sponsored Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) finally agreed to transfer ownership to the State’s General Secretariat for Sport, but has now expressed reservations. HOC’s hesitancy was sparked by the State’s refusal to offer, in exchange, the nearby horse-racing track as a prospective track and field facility. Despite HOC’s threats, Lianis has assured the media that the decision is irreversible. Olympiakos soccer club, which has used the stadium as its home ground for decades but is now temporarily based elsewhere in Athens, has agreed to cover the restoration costs, estimated at 30 million euros, in exchange for a long-term lease of between 30 to 39 years for the new-look, 40,000-capacity stadium. Insiders say that Olympiakos could demand state subsidies to finance overtime work which will probably be needed to compensate for the revamp project’s delayed start. The stadium’s handover is expected to take place in May 2004, two months ahead of the Athens Olympics. Retired French soccer star Michel Platini, nowadays a top-ranking official at FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is expected to attend tomorrow’s rescheduled news conference alongside Lianis. The sports minister has recruited Platini for a special committee charged with promoting the Athens Olympics abroad. In other soccer related news, officials of UEFA, the governing body in Europe, are currently in Athens assessing Greece’s bid to host the Champions League final in 2004. Also on the visiting UEFA delegation’s agenda are negotiations for the competition’s broadcasting rights between 2003 and 2006.