Hellenikon’s Olympic holdup

Preliminary work has begun on long-delayed Olympic venues at Athens’s former international airport, but the projects remain entangled in a legal dispute over whether to close a runway, officials said yesterday. Private aviators have filed a suit to continue using the seaside airfield, which was shut to commercial traffic in March 2001 when Athens’s new airport opened. The challenge has delayed the main construction of the venues: the canoe and kayak courses and a basketball arena. The delays could cause concern during next week’s visit by International Olympic Committee (IOC) inspectors. Greece’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, is expected to discuss the challenge tomorrow. In a temporary ruling, the Council of State had agreed to let the aviators operate, because the Civil Aviation Service had failed to submit a report on time saying that flights out of the Hellenikon airport should no longer be permitted. Media reported that when Prime Minister Costas Simitis was informed of the failure during a session of the interministerial committee supervising preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympics, he exploded at Transport Minister Christos Verelis. But Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted the dispute will do «absolutely nothing» to change the venue plans. IOC officials have said construction must be in full swing by September. «The works are not delayed,» Venizelos said after talks with a committee that informs political parties of 2004 preparations. «The groundwork has begun.» Venizelos said he also hoped to have construction crews at the Karaiskaki Stadium, where the soccer finals will be held, «before the IOC comes next Wednesday.» Denis Oswald, head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for Athens, and a team of IOC officials are expected for an inspection visit June 27-28. «We are within the timetables. .. We believe that the work of the government, as far as all the infrastructure is concerned, is going well,» said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head of Athens 2004, the organizers of the Games. (AP, Kathimerini)

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