The last of the big spenders

The Athens 2004 Olympics will be a milestone in the Games’ history, marking a return to both their ancient home and the site of their modern revival. But they are also a milestone in the Games’ future because they herald the beginning of a new era for the event as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) tries to rein in mounting costs and size. In a series of recommendations to be implemented in the coming months and years, the IOC expects to gradually scale down the size of the Olympics and turn them into a more attractive and lucrative venture for cities across the world. With a cost well over $4 billion, many potential contenders are shying away from bidding for the Games. The recommended changes, the IOC believes, can save as much as $400 million. Cities in Africa and Latin America, with severe urban and social problems as well as limited funds, cannot even contemplate such a bid, considerably reducing the Olympics’ geographical scope and global appeal. Of a total of 117 recommendations agreed to last month, some 31 could be implemented by the start of the Athens Olympics next August, IOC officials say. «The IOC wants the Games to act as an economic and social catalyst, bring something to the city and not just leave behind white elephants,» an IOC official told Reuters, adding that the IOC had also agreed to limit the number of sports to 28 and athletes to 10,500. The IOC also agreed with the Athens 2004 organizing committee to replace several planned expensive permanent facilities and venues which would have little or no post-Olympics use with more cost-effective temporary ones. The plans include scrapping one hockey pitch and a baseball diamond and changes to the modern pentathlon site, the rowing center, the badminton courts and the boxing arena. This move is expected to save about 300 million euros for organizers rushing to complete the venues on time. When Athens won the bid in 1997 to host the Games, it already had more than 70 percent of all the sports facilities in place, including an Olympic-standard stadium.