IOC head gets election promise

The International Olympic Committee official supervising Athens’s troubled preparations said yesterday he had received assurances from the governing Socialist party and opposition conservatives that they would not turn the Olympics into a campaign issue ahead of March 7 elections. Denis Oswald told The Associated Press that he had discussed the elections – being held two months ahead of schedule and five months before the Games – with both Premier Costas Simitis and Costas Karamanlis, head of the conservative New Democracy party. He told both men «I wouldn’t like the Games to be in the center of the campaign» or held as «a kind of political hostage.» Oswald said they assured him the August 13-29 Olympics would not become a campaign issue. «Both of them assured me that for them, the success of the Games was more important than even winning the elections and that they would make sure that both parties respect this principle, so that the election and the campaign would not have impact on the Games,» Oswald said. In March, construction at many Olympic venues should be ending and crucial pre-Olympic test events will be taking place at many facilities. With significant progress made in venue construction, a change of government should not adversely affect the oft-delayed projects, Oswald said. «It’s maybe less important now than it was a few months ago because now the work is carried out. They have to finish, of course, but I mean the plans are clear,» Oswald said. «They just have to finish the work, so the role of the political authorities is not as big as it was in the first phase.» Simitis will not seek re-election as premier and Foreign Minister George Papandreou is expected to replace him as party leader ahead of the elections. Papandreou is an avid athlete and has campaigned internationally for the Olympic Truce, based on the ancient Greek tradition of halting conflicts during the Games. «What is important is to have somebody who is fully committed to making the Games successful,» Oswald said. «I am totally pleased because Mr Papandreou has had links with the Olympic Games and the Olympic spirit for a long time.» The IOC team headed by Oswald will visit Athens for monthly progress reports until the Games begin. A steel-and-glass roof designed by Santiago Calatrava, which will adorn the main Olympic stadium, remains a worry for the IOC as the timetables are tight and construction problems may arise. «It is probably the most difficult issue,» Oswald said. «We don’t need the roof for the Olympics, but it would be nice to have it.»

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