Minister says Olympic projects being built ahead of schedule

The Greek government yesterday sought to allay fears of delays in preparations for the 2004 Athens Olympics, saying progress was on schedule, with some key sports venues being completed even ahead of their deadlines. Athens Games organizers were told two years ago to speed up work or risk losing the Olympics. Since then, organizers have made up considerable time and have turned the capital into a large construction site in an effort to be ready on schedule. «The timetables for the Olympics projects are well under control,» said the government’s top Olympics official, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. Speaking to a parliamentary committee reviewing the Games progress, Venizelos said eight projects under construction were ahead of schedule, including the sailing complex, the weightlifting stadium, the Olympic broadcasting center and two soccer venues that will host qualifying rounds. But other venues, including the Ano Liosia judo and wrestling complex and the Hellenikon site, to host basketball, canoe/kayak, handball and softball competitions, are experiencing delays. «The Ano Liosia hall is experiencing delays because of the seismic makeup of the ground,» he said. The western Athens suburb of Ano Liosia was badly damaged during a strong earthquake that hit the capital in 1999, killing more than 140 people. New hotels Venizelos also said initial problems concerning luxury accommodation for International Olympic Committee members, VIPs and foreign dignitaries have been successfully dealt with. «The hotel rooms issue is solved… 15 hotels are renovated, another 11 are being built. We will have cruise ships in place which will add another 6,500 rooms,» he said. Organizers, in need of 20,000 luxury rooms for the extended Olympic family, decided last year to use cruise ships as hotels which will berth at the port of Piraeus. Several nearby marinas are also undergoing facelifts and expansions to allow more boats to dock. «There will be at least a further 650 new spaces for boats in several marinas,» Venizelos said. Critics have argued the government and Athens 2004, the organizing committee, have been pumping too much money into preparations for the event, which will be returning to the Greek capital after 108 years. Venizelos said the State’s budget for the Games, set at 4.6 billion euros, will not increase. «We have full control of the situation,» the minister said. «The contribution of the Olympic preparation toward the country’s 3.8 percent growth is crucial and the creation of a new brand name for Greece will yield returns in the coming years and decades,» he said. The Greek government expects the country’s economy to grow this year by 3.8 percent, more than double the rate forecast for the entire 12-nation euro area, with investment in Olympics-related projects seen as one of the engines of growth.