FIBA officials unimpressed

Officials of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), on a visit to Greece to inspect progress in the construction of a venue that will host games during the 2004 Athens Olympics said yesterday that they will increase the number of inspections henceforth in order to put pressure on organizers and the State to finish the job on time. The delegation, led by FIBA President Borislav Stankovic, did not like what they saw at Hellenikon, the site of the former Athens airport, which closed down in 2001. One of two hangars is expected to be turned into a 15,000-seat indoor stadium but work has only just begun and there are only 17-and-a-half months to go before the start of the Games, on August 13, 2004. Stankovic and his assistants openly voiced their concern as to whether the project will be finished on time. Officials from Athens 2004, the Games organizers, the Ministry of Environment and Public Works and a representative of the construction company undertaking the project did their best to assure them that there would be no problem. Whether the FIBA officials were convinced or not, we may not know until tomorrow, when they are expected to hold a press conference jointly with EOK, the Greek basketball federation. The FIBA group also visited the indoor hall at the main Olympic sports complex at Maroussi. Now closed for refurbishment, the 20,000-seat arena will also host basketball matches. However, the contract with the company that will undertake the works has not been signed yet. Last week, the International Olympic Committee voiced grave concerns over delays in awarding contracts and building venues. The occasion escalated into a row between chief organizer Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who oversees Olympic preparations. The impression of muddled organization was reinforced, if anything, yesterday, with a signing of a memorandum of understanding between Athens 2004 and the Ministry of Labor. The agreement includes a provision for longer opening hours for shops, but these were not specified in the agreement. Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas said that the example of the previous Olympics, at Sydney, may be followed, where shops stayed open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. However, he got himself into trouble with unions for suggesting that opening hours, in general, ought to be reviewed. The unions have only agreed to an exemption for the duration of the Games.

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