Inside Lines: Games can be 'gift of the century' for London
Sunday 02 May 2004
Their Games will end up more than a billion euros (£670m) in the red, due mainly to the soaring cost of security, but the man who holds the Olympic purse strings remains unfazed and says London should not be deterred in its own quest to win the Games in 2012. "Go for it," says the Deputy Finance Minister Christos Folias, who has taken over responsibility for the Olympic budget. "Whatever the cost, it is worth it. The Olympic Games are the gift of the century. They have brought us new roads, a new airport and a new transportation system. Every city which believes it has the capacity to hold an Olympics should try to do so. It is worth every investment, every sacrifice, every stress." These are heartening words for London's bid team, especially as Folias, a 53-year-old millionaire businessman-turned-politician, says that while London must expect to pay heavily for security it has a head start because it has several existing infrastructures. "If you begin from scratch, as we did, the costs will be so much that, my God, your Chancellor would commit suicide." Folias describes his new portfolio as "the most glorious electric chair" and says that the previous government had "miscalculated" the cost of the Games, budgeted at €4.6bn. Now the overrun is expected to exceed a further billion, the very sum of security costs. "This is an investment for Greece for decades to come. A successful Olympics will promote the image of Greece around the world, and that is priceless." He also promises that despite construction hitches deadlines will be met. "We always deliver on time - even if on time means the night before."
Rogge happy to be with Village people
Whatever moans and groans may emanate from British competitors during the Games, there surely can be no complaints about the Olympic Village. It is by far the finest of the dozen (summer and winter) I have seen - and it is ready. Cool white marble floors and staircases, chic bedrooms, airy balconies. All mod cons are in the 366 houses and 229 three- to five-bedroomed maisonettes 35 minutes' drive from the main stadium via an Olympics-traffic-only road. Fit, almost, for a king - well, at least a president. The IOC's head man, Jacques Rogge, won't be exactly slumming it as one of the 16,000 Village people. His residence will be the same as the rest and, like those of the British contingent, it has already been earmarked, for security purposes. And the plumbing works, because I tried it... Three wire fences and a moat encircle the 4.2km perimeter of what is more like a small town than a village, the largest urban project in Greece, with its own fire station. The BOA chef de mission, Simon Clegg, visiting this weekend, cannot fail to be impressed.
Hole lot of mystery over opening time
This Wednesday sees Athens with exactly 100 days to go before the Games begin on 13 August. The clock may be ticking, but Gianna Angelopoulos, president of the organising committee, insists they are beating it. "When you are next here, things will look quite different," she promises. Let's hope so, for there are still plenty of holes in the ground. "Ah yes," she says, "but these will all be filled in." Well, all except one, that is. This hole is the size of a football centre-circle in the middle of the main stadium (still to be roofed). It will be kept open for "something spectacular" to arise during the opening ceremony being produced by the British company Jack Morton, who did the honours at the Commonwealth Games. It remains a big secret. "I can't even tell my kids," says Mrs A. Watch this space?
Although the United States President, George Bush, has yet to indicate whether he will be coming to Athens for the Games, his father certainly will be. Bush Snr has already written to the Greek government informing them of his intended presence.
This comes as no surprise, as the 79-year-old ex-president is something of a Graecophile. Every year he holidays in Crete and ships back to Texas large quantities of the local olive oil, which he drinks daily and offers as a recipe for his good health. A thirst for oil runs in the family, as judged by Dubya's determination to get his hands on the darker stuff in Iraq. Should the current President make it to Athens it is likely he will be shipmates with his pal Tony Blair on board the new luxury liner Queen Mary II, which is to be used as a floating palace for VIPs in the port of Piraeus. Doubtless Blair will also be dabbling in the oil business - schmoozing with IOC members in support of London's own Olympic bid will be high on his agenda.
Audley Harrison is likely to be in Athens for the Olympic boxing tournament, but as a BBC TV pundit rather than a cheerleader for the British.
When the ABA snubbed his offer to open up his Cornwall training camp for the British squad, Harrison left to prepare again in the US for his next bout. As it happens, Britain probably will have only one boxer in Athens, the 17-year-old lightweight Amir Khan, a brilliant kid for whom this may be one Olympics too soon. He could certainly do with the big man's encouragement, so let's hope Harrison and the amateurs can repair their differences. Meanwhile, he now defends his new WBF "title" in Bristol on Saturday against 39-year-old warhorse and stand-in Julius Francis - hardly an Olympian task.
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