The spiralling cost of security in the wake of the terrorist atrocities in the United States is likely to rule out future bids for the Olympic Games by many cities, including London. That was the view of several observers here during the three-day progress check on the Athens Games of 2004 by the International Olympic Committee. Even Craig Reedie, chairman of the British Olympic Association, who is a member of the co-ordination group, admits the hoped-for London bid may could be affected. "It is not going to be easy if the security bill keeps going up," he said. It is a situation that the present government, no great supporters of a prospective London bid anyway, could view as a get-out clause. The Greek government have pledged US$600 million for a three-year security programme incuding a special full-time force of 50,000 overseen by permanent advisers from Scotland Yard's Special Branch, the CIA and Mossad. I understand they they are also considering enlisting the SAS to take part in a mock-up airport hijack exercise. By 2012, the Games for which London hopes to bid, the cost may have doubled, putting the Olympics beyond the financial reach of many countries, including Britain. Some IOC members believe it is now even possible that, within the eight-year presidency of Jacques Rogge, they will have to consider establishing a future permanent site for the Games, and Greece, where it all began would be the obvious choice. Certainly, Greece's anti-terrorist measures, as outlined to us by their minister of public order, Michalis Chrysochoidis, are impressive, and Rogge pronounced himself satisfied. He re-iterated his promise to stay with the athletes in their villages both here and in Salt Lake City at next year's Winter Games. "I believe these villages will be the most secure places on earth at the time of the Games. The world needs the Olympics more than ever."
Iron Lady puts boot in over Games delays
Security at the Astir Palace Hotel, the swish coastal pad which housed the IOC bigwigs last week, was significantly tighter than at either Heathrow or Athens airports. Not only because of the presence of President Rogge, but the woman who is running the 2004 Games, Mrs Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. Although not considered a major target for terrorism, she is no stranger to it. A close relative of her shipping magnate husband was assassinated by the same left-wing 17 November faction which shot dead the British military attache, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, in an Athens street last year. However, the more pressing concern of Mrs Angelo-poulos is to put her elegantly-clad foot firmly into the backside of government ministers who seem to be taking an "It'll Be All Right on the Night Approach" to the Games. No doubt it will, but Mrs A is as irritated as the IOC's new hard-line progress chaser, Denis Oswald, over construction delays. The task looks Herculean but bet on the Iron Lady of Athens to deliver her "magical" Games.
Greeks draw a blank on Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson was first on the list when the Greeks went head-hunting after defeat by England earlier this year. The Manchester United manager was offered the proverbial blank cheque to take over the Greek national team. "He could have written in any figure he liked and it would have been honoured," a Greek official told me. But Fergie declined, as did, apparently, Terry Venables, which is why it has been left to a little-known German, the 63-year-old Otto Rehhagel, to try to salvage some pride for two nations on Saturday.
It is of small consolation to know that Athens is ready, willing and more than able to take over the threatened World Athletics Championships in 2005 in the event of London having to make a shameful retreat.
Berlin is officially on standby as the substitute venue but IAAF officials recall how well Athens coped with the World Championships of 1997 and are conscious that, a year after the 2004 Olympics, the city would be well equipped to stage a repeat. It all hinges on Patrick Carter's report on the feasibility of Picketts Lock , due to be revealed this week after discussion by Sport England tomorrow. So far only four people are aware of its contents, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, Sports Minister Richard Caborn, Sport England chairman Trevor Brooking and, curiously, former athlete Steve Cram, who is chairman of the English Sports Institute and unofficial sports "guru" to the government. The omens are not good, not least as Cram is lukewarm on the London bid.
Manchester United have returned 1,000 tickets – half their allocation – for their rescheduled Champions' League match against Olympiakos in Athens on 10 October, no doubt due not only to the repeated travelling costs but the fear of flying in the light of recent events. Significantly, only a few hundred Arsenal fans turned out for Wednesday's Panathinaikos match. The United game is a 74,000 sell-out, but despite the absence of their own followers, United will not be short of support in the Olympic Stadium. United are said to have more fans in Greece than any of the domestic teams and locals reckon most Athenians will be cheering for them, not their own Reds.
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