SPORTS

IOC pleased with Athens

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief inspector Denis Oswald warned Athens yesterday it could not afford to lose a single day in preparing for next year’s Olympics but forecast the city was equal to the task. Rejecting a chorus of criticism aimed at Games organizers during this month’s test events, Oswald said flaws exposed during the trials were easily corrected. «We are quite satisfied with the conduct of the test events. In general terms, we are quite happy with what we have seen,» Oswald told reporters after the end of his second visit in less than 10 days to monitor operations during seven test events. «We have all reasons to believe that the Games in Athens will be successful… but the schedule is tight and we cannot lose any day,» Oswald said. «Greeks, when it comes to the important things, can perform miracles,» he said. In the first week of the test events, meant to show the state of preparedness for the Games with just one year left, the German rowing team went down with food poisoning and questions were raised about the site of the rowing venue when two days were lost because of strong winds. But Oswald threw his weight behind Games organizers Athens 2004. «In spite of these difficulties, all of what we wanted to test was tested and was brilliantly passed by Athens 2004,» he said. Oswald said security remained top of the International Olympic Committee’s agenda for a successful Games. «We are paying all necessary attention and will not allow any weaknesses, to make sure the Games in Athens will be the safest possible Games.» Athens 2004 security chief Peter Ryan said any talk about «patchy» security preparations, as some international media have suggested, was unfounded. «The planning, equipment and training are progressing swiftly… I am proud to be part of this effort,» said Ryan, who headed security during the 2000 Sydney Games, in a statement. «Some recent newspaper articles have created false impressions.» After years of playing catch-up with IOC timetables, organizers are now confident all construction projects will meet strict deadlines, including a new soccer stadium and a massive steel roof on the Olympic stadium. Asked if the Karaiskaki soccer stadium, which will host several first and second round games, would be completed, Oswald said he was confident it would. «We are impressed with the progress,» he said. But he did not seem equally impressed with plans to build a massive steel dome over the main Olympic stadium. Officials say it is possible to complete the grand construction, designed to become the Games’ architectural signature and a dramatic city landmark, on time. But the IOC, concerned the project may hamper other key work around the stadium, had said it should not be installed. «We have reached a point where we cannot go back,» Oswald said. «It must be finished.» He said organizers had made a »convincing presentation» of the work schedule. With the chaos caused by a North American electricity blackout last week fresh in his mind, Oswald said such an incident would spell disaster during the Games. «If we didn’t have electricity for three days during the Games that would be a catastrophe,» he said. But he said Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis assured him all steps have been taken to tackle increased power consumption and any potential sabotage to the country’s power grid.