More money for athletes

The government agreed yesterday to double the funds targeted to athletes preparing for the 2004 Athens Olympics, to 4 billion drachmas (11.74 million euros) annually, starting in 2002. The interministerial committee, which oversees the Games’ preparations, also discussed progress in building venues and the upcoming visit of International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials. Today, a more restricted group consisting of Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos – whose portfolio includes sport – and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, along with Deputy Finance Minister Christos Pachtas and Deputy Public Works Minister Nassos Alevras, will meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis to discuss the budget for the Games and the related infrastructure projects. At the start of yesterday’s meeting, Simitis told participants of his talks with US President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Simitis discussed the issue of security at the Olympic Games. «They emphasized that they are at our disposal for any sort of help and President Bush declared he is certain we’ll do a fine job,» Simitis told the committee. Simitis set 20 medals as a minimum target for Greece to win at the 2004 Olympics. Greece won 13 at Sydney, taking 14th place among participant countries. Former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch had said in 1997, when Athens was awarded the Games, that the success of Greek athletes would be an essential part of the success of the Games. Echoing Samaranch’s injunction, Venizelos said yesterday that a major challenge would be to «rouse public opinion, not just the usual sports-lovers.» «We need to fill the stadiums,» Venizelos said. Several of these stadiums, including the main venue, the Olympic stadium, will be closed for refurbishments. The 625 Greek athletes currently preparing for the Games will use other installations dispersed around Greece. About half the sports federations will be housed at the Aghios Cosmas sports center, at a seaside suburb of Athens. There, said Deputy Culture Minister Yiannis Kourakis, an existing hostel will be expanded to 205 rooms and two prefabricated, fully equipped gyms will be set. «We are looking at models, having consulted with athletes, of course. We will choose the model over the next five to 10 days,» Kourakis said. In 2001, the State paid 2 billion drachmas (5.87 million euros) to sports federations for the preparation of top-caliber athletes for the Olympics. The Hellenic Olympic Committee contributed a further 600 million drachmas (1.76 million euros).

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