The latest high-profile event covering preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games opened in the Greek capital this week, with a relevant conference entitled “Countdown towards the 2004 Games: What should we consider a successful Olympiad?” In addressing the Economist Group-sponsored conference, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos told delegates that the question now is not “whether the Games will succeed, but to what extent.”
He also referred to what he called a radical change in the international perspective on terrorism following 9/11, as well as “prejudice” due to Greece’s geographic position vis-à-vis security concerns for the Games.
“We would have a security problem in any location at the moment. However, we would be hard pressed to find a city anywhere in the west with better security conditions than Athens,” he said, adding that requests by certain countries –the United States or Israel, for instance – for additional measures must be taken into consideration.
On his part, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis compared Olympic preparations in Athens to a “financial pentathlon”, while referring to nine “test events” connected to the success of the Games:
— On-schedule completion of projects without problems and last-minute ‘crusades’; successful organisation that is adequate and visitor-friendly; effective provision of accommodations without profiteering; commercial exploitation of the Games; promoting Greece’s image abroad; exploitation of new infrastructures; boosting national self-confidence by turning the Games into an international celebration; maximising resources; and beginning new projects throughout Greece.
He also said the government intended to allocate two billion euros in regional development programmes.
Deputy Culture Minister Nassos Alevras, whose portfolio covers many of the 2004-related projects, stressed that the government and PM Costas Simitis personally have mandated “strict and absolute” control of 2004 expenditures, “regardless of political costs”.
Main opposition New Democracy deputy Fani Palli-Petralia, who oversees the Olympics sector for her party, expressed a certainty that the upcoming Games will be successfully hosted, although she referred to “opportunities missed during the planning stage”.
Palli-Petralia also forecast that New Democracy would successfully host the Games when it assumes power next year following general elections in the country.
Health Minister Costas Stefanis, meanwhile, told participants at the conference that plans for health services during the 2004 Athens Games are evolving at a very satisfactory pace.
The minister said a relevant budget totals 365 million euros, of which 80 percent has been absorbed to date.
Hospital treatment, first stage health care, dealing with emergencies, public health and hygiene as well as organising and coordinating such services are, according to Stefanis, the five main priorities.
On the question of hospital treatment, 25 facilities around the country, 17 in the greater Athens area, have been designated as ”Olympic” care units.
Additionally, both the ambassadors of the United States and Britain spoke at the conference, with US envoy Thomas Miller stressing that security for the 2004 Games ranks as the No. 1 priority of the US diplomatic mission in Athens. Miller also said it was not fair to compare the Athens Games with any of the previous tournaments, adding that Washington is willing to assist in any way it can with security for the Games.
Finally, the US envoy said the seven-country advisory group for 2004 security is a unique and unprecedented grouping.
On his part, British envoy David Madden referred to his country’s participation in the advisory group, saying it was an honour. He also supported the notion of safe and successful Games within the framework of a pleasant Athens.
In a related security development, a government spokesman this week said Greece would ”examine” the issue of introducing “biometric technology” at the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport of Athens, before emphasising that security issues were at stake and that the country had a serious responsibility for the 2004 Games.
The spokesman was responding to questions over reports that European airlines — including state-run Olympic Airways — were providing passengers’ personal and biometric data to US authorities.
Asked about the European Parliament’s criticism of the European Commission for allowing to the dispatch of such data, the spokesman said that the Euro-Parliament’s views would be taken into account.
Biometric technology features the scanning of the retinal, iris, face or fingerprint to determine identity.