Athens stalls on 2004 date switch

Athens is considering a request to move the dates of the 2004 Games and will give the International Olympic Committee its final answer next month, the organising committee's general manager said yesterday.

But although Costas Bakouris described the request as "very attractive", he was unsure if it was to Athens' advantage to move the Games from August to July - a change of two weeks.

"We are in the process now of trying to understand what it means and whether all the aspects that we have considered before continue to be valid," Bakouris said.

Earlier this month the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, said he was willing to consider moving the Olympics to avoid clashes with football's Champions' League and Uefa Cup. That could allow international football stars to compete in the Olympics, essentially providing the world with an informal World Cup.

"It is not easy, it is very attractive, but we have to see very carefully all the parameters," Bakouris said. He did not elaborate on the incentives being offered by the IOC, but did say it would have been better if Athens had been told earlier.

"If this was a decision that we wanted to review seven years or six years ago, before any commitments, obviously it would be a different issue than it is today," Bakouris said.

The proposal will be discussed today and tomorrow with Samaranch when he visits Athens to attend the World Short Course Swimming Championship, taking place at the sports complex that will host some of the events during the 2004 Games.

One of the problems with upgrading football's profile at the Olympics would be the capacity of some of the secondary stadiums hosting matches around the country. Bakouris was uncertain they would be big enough, and did not know if there would be any complications from a request to use the main Olympic stadium for some of the games. But he did not think the IOC could renegotiate broadcast rights for the Games to accommodate a bigger audience tuning in to watch football. "I don't think they will be able to renegotiate on this," Bakouris said.

Bakouris said other problems with moving the dates include commitments made to hoteliers, hotter weather in July, and added traffic. Most people in the city of about five million go on holiday in August.

During his visit, Samaranch will also review Athens' preparations, following growing criticism that it has done little to prepare for the Games since the award in September 1997. "I believe we are pretty good and on schedule," Bakouris said.

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