This month’s closely watched inspection visit by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegation, again chaired by the chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission supervising the Athens Games, Denis Oswald, comes only four months before this summer’s “test events” get under way. Both the Greek government and the Athens 2004 Games Organising Committee (ATHOC) are hopeful that the latest IOC “report card” regarding preparations will be positive, as a handful of previously delayed projects – the rebuilding of Karaiskaki Stadium, upgrading of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA), new venues at the coastal Helliniko site and the recent awarding of a massive security contract – have all been resolved over the past month
According to reports, IOC officials will focus their attention on four areas of preparations during this month’s inspection, namely, venues, transports, equipment purchases for various facilities as well as “test events”. The controversial issue of “Olympic overlays”, especially the level of expenditures and who will pay for them, will also come under the IOC’s scrutiny.
As far as “test events”, ATHOC President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said most of them will take place over the summer of 2003.
The IOC has repeatedly stressed to officials in Greece over the course of the last two years that successful ‘test events’ will go a long way towards ensuring the quality of the actual Games in 2004.
In terms of new venue construction, projects that are on schedule and ‘glitch-free’ include the International Broadcasting Centre; the Main Press Centre; the Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Centre; the Faliro coastal site; the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre; the Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre; the indoor Olympic Hall in the Galatsi district; the Nikaia weightlifting hall and the Ano Liosia indoor hall – with the last two Piraeus-area districts. Conversely, and despite accelerated progress of late, delays are still plaguing Karaiskaki, OAKA, Helliniko and Goudi.
Specifically, the government believes Karaiskaki will be finished in ‘record time’, as the currently dilapidated stadium must be torn down and rebuilt according to Olympic specifications in one year.
Government officials, in fact, hope demolition work can begin in the next few days while Oswald is in Athens, assuming that new obstacles don’t arise. At press time, a Parliament-approved contract with the amateur Olympiakos Piraeus club had still not been signed, pending ratification by the state’s Auditing Council and possible legal challenges by third parties. Nevertheless, the government’s has promised that it has “alternative solutions” for the 2004 football finals in any worst-case scenario involving Karaiskaki – named in honour of Greek revolutionary hero Georgios Karaiskakis, who fell in battle in April 1827 almost at the exact spot where the stadium stands today.
However, the government also noted that it would unveil such alternative solutions in the coming months, and then only depending on how the project has proceeded.
Regarding the ambitious plan to build a metallic dome over the OAKA stadium, the brainchild of noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, a government official stressed that the Italian factory tapped to provide materials for the project’s second phase has committed to beginning delivery of state-of-the-art metallic structures needed for the dome this month.
Additionally, plans to upgrade and improve the landscaping in areas surrounding OAKA stadium, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2004 Games will take place, have also met with legal challenges by a handful of construction firms on the losing end of a relevant tender. Again, though, government officials appear confident that this project will also be completed ahead of pressing deadlines.
Roughly the same situation existed for the Helliniko coastal site – which will host the softball, baseball, (field) hockey, basketball (prelims), handball (finals), fencing and canoe/kayak slalom competitions – as numerous court challenges were eventually rejected by Greece’s highest administrative court. Construction of the indoor arena for basketball appears to be on schedule, whereas work on the baseball and softball diamonds, as well as the hockey field, are now proceeding at a quicker pace. Nevertheless, deadlines for projects at Helliniko, a coastal suburb in the Greek capital’s southeast that is adjacent to, and partially located on, the premises of the former Athens airport, continue to among the most pressing.
Minor delays have also been recorded for the Goudi Olympic Complex – hosting the badminton and modern pentathlon competitions – while concerns have abated over whether the mostly prefabricated structures at this east Athens site will be ready on time.