Tensions Over Greek Games

As the world turns its eyes toward Sydney, the International Olympic Committee is looking toward Greece — home of the first Olympics and host of the 2004 Summer Games.

And it’s concerned by what it sees in Athens, a city that is making an all-out effort to prepare for the responsibility it has assumed.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch has said he is “very much worried regarding the timetables” for the completion of the venues to be used in the Games.

“The coming six months will be crucial,” says Jacques Rogge, an IOC official who visited Greece last month. “The government must move the deadlines forward. … Time has been lost in the past, but no time can be lost in the future.

“The clock is ticking.”

Rising Tensions

Greek Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos suddenly canceled his trip to observe the Olympics in Sydney.

The Greek government said the cancellation was because his workload in Athens was too heavy, but many members of the Greek media have commented on a suspected rift between him and the Athens 2004 Olympic organizing committee and its president, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a wealthy public relations specialist who campaigned tirelessly for Greece to host the Games.

According to the commentators, Pangalos is furious over the staff’s salaries — amounting to nearly $30 million a month, a figure Angelopoulos-Daskalaki asked the Culture Ministry to approve.

Pangalos reportedly also wants to dissociate himself from the committee’s planned expensive partying in Australia.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the same sources say, approves of Pangalos’ decision and considers the demands of Angelopoulos-Daskalaki excessive.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, meanwhile, is said to be furious at Pangalos — and her supporters are suggesting he is avoiding Sydney to sidestep possible IOC scrutiny of the Athens Games.

Still Behind Schedule

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was appointed to take over the Greek organizing committee after a sharp warning in April by Samaranch that the Athens Games were in the worst organizational crisis faced by an Olympic city in his 20-year tenure.

“You lost three years,” Samaranch told Athens organizers after reading their formal report to the IOC general assembly. “Now, you have only four years for the organization of the Games. That is very difficult.”

But, he added, “we have the confidence you will do it.”

Rogge acknowledges there has been considerable progress since then. “There is a new dynamism … and far more flexibility” in the current Greek efforts than in the past, he said Tuesday in Sydney.

He cautioned that 25 percent of the sports venues have to be finished in the four years remaining before the Games, and there are “very tight schedules for construction of the general infrastructure,” including feeder roads to the new Athens international airport and construction from the ground up of the new Olympic Village.

Rogge says the IOC has expressed disagreement with the Greek government’s plans for building five venue clusters for 12 sports. The IOC wants these to be ready by May 2003, to allow a year for trials. The venues are for yachting, rowing and canoeing, equestrian events, softball and baseball, badminton and fencing.

Security Concerns

Security measures also are a major issue. An elusive terrorist group called November 17, which has operated in Greece since 1975, has claimed responsibility for the June 8 slaying of the British military attaché in Athens.

In Sydney, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said a special Greek police division has been created for the Olympics, and that 26 Greek security experts had traveled to Australia to monitor operations during the Sydney Games, which open Sept. 15.

Last week, Greece signed a security cooperation agreement with the United States, and it will complete similar accords with Britain and other countries, she said.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.