SPORTS

IOC has a lot to worry about

The head of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission, Denis Oswald, will begin a scheduled two-day inspection tour today amid persisting concerns that time is running short for the preparation of the 2004 Athens Olympics and that little progress has been achieved. Oswald arrived late last night, but IOC officials have already been in Athens, checking progress at a number of venues whose construction has long been delayed. IOC officials are worried that delays in construction of Olympic venues will also delay the necessary «test events» that will take place ahead of the Games and determine the venues’ readiness to stage the competitions. The IOC would like to see test events staged during the year leading up to the start of the Games, on August 13, 2004, but it is now certain that in certain sports, including track and field and canoe and kayak events, it will be impossible to stage such events ahead of spring 2004 at the earliest. With each passing day, Athens’s main argument, as a candidate city, that 74 percent of the venues were already in place, rings increasingly hollow, especially if one thinks that the «ready venues» included e.g. the marathon and the triathlon courses, for which no construction is necessary. The sailing center which will be built in Athens’s coastal suburb of Palaio Faliron is supposed to hold the first test event in August 2003. This project, however, like many others so far, faces a legal challenge from irate locals who claim that the works, which, in this case will include a landfill with a total area of 84,581 square meters (about 910,000 sq. ft.), will destroy the environment. Protests and legal challenges are holding up some needed infrastructure work. It now appears, for example, that the road connecting the Olympic Sports Complex with the Olympic Village will not be built because of complications regarding land expropriation. Transport, as well as accommodation, are two more areas of major concern for the IOC. This time, Oswald will meet Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos tomorrow, at the conclusion of his visit. This forms part of the government’s latest tactic, of emphasizing its supervisory role and diminishing that of Athens 2004, the Games organizers, who are now, presumably, on a tighter leash.