Greek organisers repeatedly stressed this week that Athens will be completely ready to host the upcoming Summer’s Athens Games, as speakers addressed a general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees, which was hosted in the Greek capital. Athens 2004 Olympics Organising Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki outlined progress for the Games to an audience of keenly interested delegates on Thursday, following recent high-profile concerns over delayed work on the classical Marathon route and a new state-of-the-art roof over the main Olympic stadium (OAKA), among others. On his part, IOC chief inspector for Athens, Denis Oswald, noted that although much needs to be done until August, he still is confident that everything will be ready. Moreover, high-ranking culture ministry official Costas Kartalis promised that the “signature” roof project over the OAKA stadium — dubbed by the “Calatrava dome” by local media for noted Spanish architect who designed it, Santiago Calatrava — will be finished by the end of June.
The culture ministry general secretary said the procedure for easing the entire glass-and-metal framework into its final position, a reportedly tricky manoeuvre, will begin in late April, with a crucial round of engineering tests set for May 5.
In terms of other projects, he said landscaping work will begin around the “Olympic Village” next week; a new Y-shaped tram network connecting downtown Athens with its coastline will debut in the Greek capital in June, as 22.5 kilometres of track have already been laid down. Finally, he said 22 kilometres of the suburban rail project, which connects the metro lines with the airport, are also ready.
Regarding the crucial issue of security for the 2004 Games, the ATHOC chief said Athens organisers, the Greek government and a bevy of international advisory countries, including the United States, consider security as the No. 1 priority for the upcoming Olympics.
Turning to specific venues, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said the all-marble Panathinaiko Stadium – the site that hosted the first modern Olympic in 1896 – will be ready in a few weeks. The U-shaped stadium in downtown Athens will host the Olympic archery competition and serve as the finish line for the Marathon race.
She also promised that a host of facilities along coastal Athens at the Helliniko district, hosting everything from handball to the basketball preliminaries, will also be ready by June as well.
“We have offered our commitment, from the very first moment, that the Games of Greece will be unique. We have already broken our first record – In 24 weeks, athletes from 202 countries around the world, the largest participation of countries ever (in the Olympic Games), will parade at the Athens Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony. This makes our responsibility even greater. We’re ready to meet the challenge. Nineteen facilities will be ready by the end of March” she told NOC delegates from around the world,” she said.
Finally, Oswald, the Swiss-born chairman of the IOC coordination commission for the 2004 Games, praised both Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and the level of cooperation between ATHOC and the Greek government, before stressing that the IOC continues to press for stepped up progress in the face of tight completion deadlines.
On Tuesday, the IOC expressed its confidence in Athens’ efforts to organise the 2004 Games, with the IOC’s influential president saying that everything humanly possible is being done to ensure a safe and secure Olympics.
Addressing the 14th General Assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees (NOCs), IOC President Jacques Rogge noted that even today there are certain parties that question Greece’s ability to organise the Olympic Games, before adding:
”I want to say, from this podium, in the most categorical way, that the IOC surrounds the Greek effort with absolute confidence”.
With respect to security, the IOC chief reiterated that everything possible was being done to hold a secure Olympic Games.
Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos reiterated his commitment that all Olympic projects, including the ”Calatrava roof”, would be completed in time for the Games.
”Let me state in a categorical way that most of the projects are at the 90-percent completion mark, and all of the projects will be delivered over the next two months,” Venizelos said.
He later briefed Rogge during a meeting, with the latter saying he was satisfied that Olympic preparations have not been affected by the ongoing election campaign season in Greece.
General elections are planned in the country on Sunday, March 7.
Venizelos, whose ministry oversees several Olympics projects, stressed that remaining ones will be ready for use by the end of April.
The general assembly was inaugurated at a central Athens hotel by Greek President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos, who called on the more than 500 NOC delegates and 40 IOC members attending to ”adhere to the Olympic ideals and hold on to them with regard to the Athens Games”.
The delegates were also briefed on the Cultural Olympiad by the organisation’s head, Evgenios Yiannakopoulos.
Meeting with Karamanlis
Meanwhile, Rogge held talks on Thursday with main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis, who said afterwards ”we are all together making our best effort to enable the Athens Olympic Games to be the best and safest which ever took place.” Karamanlis stressed that ”the success of the Olympic Games is a national issue which concerns all Greeks.” During the meeting, attended by Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, ND secretary Vangelis Meimarakis and the party’s Olympic Games sector chief, Fani Palli-Petralia, Karamanlis reassured Rogge that if ND won the elections there will be no loss of time and that all who had worked in past years to achieve this undertaking will continue their work unimpeded.
He also said ”Greece will honour the commitments it has undertaken towards the Olympic family”.
Finally, the president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, Mario Vasquez Rania, this week expressed his satisfaction after the presentations made in the Greek capital by ATHOC officials.
”Athens 2004 made a full presentation. Never until now has there been such a detailed report corresponding so much to reality. Our only objection has to do with airline tickets. Athens 2004 had promised to cover us, which has occurred by 70 percent, while the remaining Olympic Committees have expressed concern over the specific issue. We shall refer to this in our report, trying to change something in the time to come,” he said.
He added that he was satisfied with the association’s sessions in Athens.
”We addressed 23 points in the agenda and listened to 107 speakers. We secured the Association’s unity, which is very important for us. For the first time a total of 202 National Olympic Committees participated.”
USOC pleased over progress, security for Athens 2004
Representatives of the US Olympic Committee, including its President William Martin, this week expressed satisfaction with Athens’ ongoing Olympic preparations, including security plans, following a meeting with ATHOC President Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and the US ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller. ATHOC executive directors Marton Simitsek and Spyros Capralos were also present at the meeting, held at organisers’ headquarters. The USOC representatives praised ATHOC for the quality of services envisioned for athletes, as well as the excellent staging of sporting events so far.
“I believe that the Athens Olympics will be a celebration of Greek history and a celebration of the Olympic Movement. In the United States we are very excited that we will be a part of this great event,” Martin said.
He also expressed confidence in the level of security for the Games, reiterating that US athletes will be housed at the Olympic Village throughout the Athens Games.
Australia last week confirmed that extra security provisions would be made to protect its athletes at the Athens Olympics in August.
“Following a thorough assessment of the entire situation, it was decided that extra measures will be taken,” Australia’s Attorney General Philip Ruddock said during a televised interview. He declined to offer details.
Citing government sources, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported that armed security personnel would provide around-the-clock protection to Australian athletes during the Games, the first post-9/11 Summer Olympics.
During the broadcast it was also emphasised that Athens was spending for Olympic security three times the amount spent by Sydney in 2000.
US ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller expressed optimism that everything would go well with security during the Games in August. “Cooperation is good and we are all working on this issue”, the US envoy said, adding, “We know that we live in a dangerous world, but we are optimistic that everything will go well.”