IOC says reassured on progress in Athens preparations

Sunday, July 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Sunday assured the International Olympic Committee of full government support for the 2004 Athens Olympics _ and was told that the IOC was happy with progress.

''Things are going well. We are on the right track,'' IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said at the IOC's annual assembly.

''These games are always a mixture of sport and culture. But in your country the games have a third dimension: Olympic history.''

Simitis travelled to Moscow, where the IOC is meeting, to allay fears that official red tape is slowing progress.

``As Prime Minister of Greece, I want to express to you in plain and direct terms the total and complete commitment of the Greek government to the success of Athens 2004,'' he said.

Preparations for the Olympics, including construction of venues, transport links and hotels, have been plagued by organizational bungling and government bureaucracy.

Concern that the Greek capital would not be ready in time was such that the IOC issued an official warning to Athens last year. This persuaded Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, credited with winning the games for the city in the first place, to take over the organization.

Since then, construction has started on key venues and transport projects _ as shown by a video displayed to IOC members. Athens' new airport opened earlier this year, and organizers recently managed to lift a government ban on hotel construction _ raising the possibility of some 4,000 new rooms for visitors.

``Athens is cruising at a good speed and if that speed is maintained, we'll have excellent games,'' the IOC coordinating commission chairman Jacques Rogge told the IOC.

``But at the same time we should be vigilant. Time is pressing and the clock is ticking,'' he said.

Rogge said work on transport projects needed to be kept up to meet deadlines. He hailed a government budget of dlrs 60 million and intelligence agreements with 37 other countries to allay fears that the November 17 terrorist group might stage attacks during the games.

``Athens is cleaner, faster easier to visit and more inviting to return,'' Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said. ``Our city is getting ready to host a unique games in 2004.''

During the conference debate, IOC members raised a number of concerns ranging from the distance between the athletes' village and sailing and rowing sites, to traffic congestion, to availability of medical facilities during the opening ceremony.

But overall, the mood was one of relief that the Greek capital will be up to the challenge.

``We are very much at ease hearing the report of the Athens organizing committee,'' said Willi Kaltschmitt, a member from Guatemala. ``We're fully reassured.''

Athens has a special place in IOC hearts as the birthplace of the Olympics. It was partly for sentimental reasons that the city won the bid for the 2004 games.

''Two thousand five hundred years ago, Olympic history was born in ancient Olympia. In 2004 together we will make history again,'' vowed Simitis.

''In this homecoming of the Games we will showcase the Olympic heritage. We will showcase the modern Greece,'' he said.