Athens 2004 Olympics - The Makings Of A Greek Tragedy

ATHENS (dpa)- Four years ago, when Athens was awarded the right to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, the country vowed to restore the glory, tradition and grandeur of the ancient Games.
Today, the majority of Greeks simply hope the country will be able to pull them off, and not transform the modern Games into a Greek tragedy.
Faced with persistent delays, bureaucratic infighting, resignations and sackings, the Athens 2004 Olympics Organizing Committee (ATHOC) has been through a rocky year in its efforts to organize the Games and it faces further trials ahead.
It started last April, when International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch warned that serious delays in preparations were on the verge of placing the Games in danger.
He told the Greeks that there were three categories of organization of the Olympics: green, where everything is proceeding smoothly; yellow, where there are many problems and red, where the Games are in danger.
Greece, he said, was sliding toward a "red-light danger zone" because of persistent delays and he described Athens' preparations as the worst he had witnessed since taking over the helm of the Olympic movement 20 years ago.
Samaranch's warning initially appeared to hit home.
Panic-stricken that the Games could be taken from Athens, Prime Minister Costas Simitis fired ATHOC president Costas Bakouris, an expatriate business executive, and personally assumed control of the 2004 Games himself.
The prime minister then brought back 45-year-old lawyer Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, the woman who led Greece's winning bid to host the 2004 Olympics after the country lost an earlier bid to Atlanta to host the 1996 Centennial Games.
Since taking on the role as president of ATHOC eight months ago, Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, nicknamed the "iron lady" by the Greek press, is generally credited with injecting a sense of urgency into preparations, and with improving relations with the IOC.
But in the temperamental arena of Greek politics, Angelopoulou- Daskalaki has also had to deal with power struggles and face a lot of criticism from politicians and the media.
She has been charged with excessive spending on hospitality in Sydney, demanding exhorbitant salaries for her officials and insisting she be given more authority to cut through bureaucratic red-tape.
The IOC official supervising Athens' preparations, Jacques Rogge, in August appealed for a truce between Greek Olympic organizers and the government while announcing that "Greece had to run a marathon at sprint speed to make it".
But problems persisted for several months.
In October, the head of the Cultural Olympics quit, saying he could not cope with the bureaucracy, and the prime minister fired a senior Olympic organizer for openly squabbling with a minister.
And in November, Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos, whose ministry is closely involved in Olympic preparations, was sacked after criticizing the government's policies.
Harmony appeared to prevail during an IOC inspection visit last month, when IOC officials expressed satisfaction that progress had been made in making up for three years of delays, specifically in the areas of hotel accommodation, broadcasting, sponsorship and construction of the Olympic village.
But the IOC also warned that organizers could not afford to waste a single day and that much more needs to be done, and fast.
Athens must build at least five major sports venues, decide where to put its media village, implement a top-notch security programme, complete road and transport projects, launch its volunteers campaign, upgrade a currently weak power network and announce a Cultural Olympics programme.
But just 10 days after the IOC visit, any sense of stability was shattered with the resignation of ATHOC general manager Petros Sinadinos, the second most important official after Angelopoulou- Daskalaki.
ATHOC's top media adviser, Yannis Roubatis also quit, citing personal reasons.
Despite the persistent problems, the IOC has expressed confidence that Athens will deliver.
"We are pleased preparations in Athens are going well and the government is fully involved in the organization of the Games," Samaranch said recently in Lausanne, adding that "we are very much optimistic the Games can be a great success."
While rumours have all but ceased that the Olympics could be taken away from Athens and placed in the custody of a previous host city - such as Sydney - Athens is clearly nervous with the enormity of work ahead and whether it will be ready.
"This is a marathon which will not end until the closing day of the 2004 Paralympics. Our clock will be ticking until that day and the whole nation is working to give the Games we promised," said Angelopoulou-Daskalaki.