United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
December 30, 2001
Feature: Will Greece be ready for '04 Games?
ATHENS-- A year ago, the International Olympic Committee, concerned about the slow progress of preparations, talked openly of
relocating the 2004 Olympics away from Greece. Projects to build stadiums, improve transportation systems and create living and
working space were months, and in some cases years, behind schedule.
Ever since the games were awarded to Athens in 1997, IOC progress reports on the preparations were couched in increasingly
desperate -- and critical -- language. By mid-2001 IOC oversight committee president Denis Oswald said the status of the 2004
Olympics in Athens was "in grave jeopardy."
But the Games were not relocated, and by November there were indications that deadlines may be met after all.
"We were very pleasantly surprised by what we found on our last visit," an IOC spokesman told United Press International in Athens.
"The progress, and more importantly, the sense of urgency, have improved dramatically in only the two months [since the previous visit]."
While far from a glowing endorsement, that view is music to the Greek organizers, who were biting their nails at the prospect of their
country -- which hosted the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896 -- could become the first country to ever have the rights to hold the
games snatched away from them because of internal problems.
Greek newspapers have recently begun to boast that the Greek games will prove to be the best ever despite the slow start.
Problems still remain. IOC officials stress that while progress has been made, it does not mean that projects have managed to get on
In fact, one IOC official said that the extent to which the games are behind even after the recent progress would be alarming except that it
represents a dramatic improvement compared to previous visits, and suggests that the organizers are now on a recovery course.
Before the 2004 Summer Olympics can get under way in Athens, the Greeks still have to win a vital race against time.
Gordon Popodopoulos, who is in charge of infrastructure development, says the improvement actually started in May, when Gianna
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the wife of business tycoon Theodore Angelopoulos, was appointed head of the Athens Olympic Organization
by then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Popodopoulos said that Angelopoulos, who accepts no pay for her work, started making changes the minute she arrived on the job,
rehiring consultants who helped orchestrate Athens' dramatic winning bid four years before, and outsourcing many peripheral tasks --
such as accounting and public relations -- to private firms, including several from outside Greece.
"She [Angelopoulos] has really created a sense of urgency," Popodopoulos told UPI.
Angelopoulos herself repeatedly stresses that the sense of urgency must be continued. "We Greeks like to do things at the last minute,"
her favorite sound bite goes. "Well, now is the last minute."
Angelopoulos' bulldozer style has sparked some criticisms at home, but it has earned praise from the IOC. For the first time, the
November report from the organization focused on specific areas of concern rather than on concerns for the whole Athens Olympic
But the specific areas of concern are still significant: the IOC found that Athens still has to build 3,000 of the 19,000 hotel rooms it needs
by 2004. The main sports center at the site of Athens former airport is still more than a year behind schedule. Only 25 of the 366
buildings that will make up the Olympic village have seen any significant progress.
"The progress has been extraordinary," the IOC spokesman said. "But the last thing we want to do is create an impression that from this
point on it will be easy. The work still to be done is unimaginable, but still possible with two more years of long hours and seven-day
workweeks. What has happened is that it edged toward being possible and away from being impossible."
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