Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Athens struggles with Olympic plans

DOWN TO THE WIRE A love of the grandiose and a lack of organization have been blamed for delays in getting sites completed for this year's Olympiad

THE GUARDIAN , ATHENS

The site for the Karaiskaki soccer stadium in Faliron, Athens, is pictured during a media tour on Tuesday. The stadium will host the women's football finals.

PHOTO: EPA

Just 163 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Athens, at least half of the city's projects for the games are still unfinished, according to Greek members of parliament (MPs) and media. The majority of the unfinished sites are reportedly not even halfway to completion.

For a country proud of its classical legacy, the situation is deeply embarrassing. Among the sites facing problems are the marathon course, which traces part of the original route run by the messenger Phidippides in 490BC, and the showpiece glass-and-steel dome over the main Olympic stadium.

They are so far behind schedule that few believe they will be completed on time.

"All the historical capital that the Greeks had as the nation that both invented the games and revived them has been needlessly lost by these disastrous preparations," Liana Kanelli, a Communist MP, said. "What we are looking at is an absolute mess, and a very costly one at that."

On Tuesday, the respected newspaper Kathimerini reported that 15 Olympic projects were behind schedule, including the suburban railway linking the city to the airport and the tramline to the coast.

Panicked officials have postponed "delivery deadlines" to within weeks of the start of the games on Aug. 13. They have also promised hefty completion bonuses to contractors, increasing the burden on the already overstretched Olympic budget, the paper said.

Greece, the smallest country ever to host the event, is to spend a record US$800 million on security, three times the amount spent on the Olympics in Sydney four years ago.

Most critics blame the delays on the needless exhibitionism of many of the projects. Matters have not been helped by the political infighting since Athens was awarded the games in 1997, and a lack of proper assessment studies for projects that impact on the city's rich archeological past.

The US$147 million landmark dome at the main Olympic stadium, designed by the internationally renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, has been singled out as being especially vainglorious.

"Everybody knows that the Olympic stadium stands in an earthquake-prone zone," Kanelli said.

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