ATHENS - International Olympic Committee officials last week expressed satisfaction with the progress made by Athens on the construction of long-delayed sports venues, considered a key element in its struggle to prepare for the 2004 Summer Games. Greek government officials also for the first time presented IOC inspectors led by Jacques Rogge with final locations for all venues and firm dates for their construction.
"It is going good. They have made a lot of good progress on all the venue preparation and then also on the structure of the organisation. So a lot of progress has been made since last time," IOC Sports Director Gilbert Felli said. During an earlier visit in February, Rogge said he was concerned about Greece's ability to make up for three-and-a-half years of lost time.
After meeting with Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis, Rogge said: "The organisational effort of Greece for the Olympic Games of 2004 is on the right path."
Venue construction and infrastructure topped Rogge's agenda at meetings with government officials, who in the past have been blamed for the unwieldy bureaucracy that led the IOC to warn last year that the Athens Games were in danger.
Rogge was also to discuss security issues with Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisohoides following the IOC's approval of a master plan for the Games. The Socialist government last week proposed widespread legal changes to improve the nation's widely criticised record on terrorism. It recently allocated $600 million for Olympic security.
Greece's inability to crack down on a number of domestic terrorist groups and arson gangs has increased international concerns over its ability to provide adequate security for the Olympics. "I think in the last years Greece has taken important steps to deal with this phenomenon ... the public order ministry's security plan has been judged by the IOC as being very good,' Sports Minister George Florides said in an interview.
Florides admitted the construction of sports venues-including long-delayed weightlifting and wrestling arenas-were an issue of concern for the IOC. "The dates we have now are final. ... From now on because our eight most important works have been tendered, we can estimate the times exactly... and also the possible difficulties that may appear in the process," Florides said. Rogge has repeatedly told government officials that he wants to see the start of construction on all outstanding venues and projects. "We have seen that the deadlines proposed could be met except for a few little things, but I think we are on a good track," Felli said.
Last week bulldozers began clearing ground at the sites of the weightlifting and wrestling arenas. The government this week gave approval for construction of the Olympic Village and one of five complexes that will house journalists. "He wants to see construction crews ... well construction crews he can see," Florides said.
In another development, Athens organisers announced they had finalised the location of all sports venues. In recent months locations had been fluid for venues such as basketball, volleyball, judo, tae kwon do, and handball. "We are now in a position to say that all venue locations have been completed for the Olympic Games and we have written approval from all international federations and basketball and handball. It is now a reality,"
said Makis Asimakopoulos, sports director for the Athens organising committee.