Inside Lines: Greeks show how we must minister to sport

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The Independent Online

Dateline: Athens

The Greeks clearly take their sport - and their sports ministers - far more seriously than we do ours. The present incumbent, George Lianis, is 60, the same age as Richard Caborn. But there the similarities seem to end. Lianis is a high-profile, charismatic figure with a seat in the cabinet and a budget of almost £200m a year - more than five times as much as Treasury funding for sport here, for a population less than a sixth of ours. Around £10m has been allocated for Olympic preparations and any Greek athlete who wins a gold medal or World Championship is given a bonus of £120,000 and offered a free university place and a job for life. It was Lianis, a former professional footballer, was also Greece's leading TV investigative journalist. He helped secure the 2004 Games in his first spell as sports minister. Now, in his second, he is the driving force behind the Olympic programme and the current crackdown on sports drugs, planning laws to test even schoolkids. Lianis says that in the wake of the recent THG revelations all Greek competitors will be tested at least four times before the Games begin in August. "When I was re-appointed the Prime Minister, told me, 'George, we must have a clean Games'. I promise we will." One of Lianis's predcecessors was Giorgos Florides, now in charge of Games security as Public Order Minister. He has warned that countries like the US and Australia willl not be allowed to bring their own armed security forces. "If you have policemen from various countries all carrying guns under the same roof it is possble that war will be declared," he says. As sports minister Florides was responsible for cleaning up Greek football's corruption scandals. "That was even more difficult than organising security for the Olympics."

Olympic show has another leading lady

As if having one feisty female in a starring role in the Olympics show was not enough, there is now something of a diva double act as the countdown to Athens 2004 quickens. The lady on the right is Dora Bakoyannis, who will be as much in the public eye as Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the dynamic president of the organising committee, when the Games begin next summer. Bakoyannis is the mayor of Athens (Ken Livingstone eat your heart out) and, like Angelopoulos, is a 49-year-old beauty making Olympic history. Angelopoulos is the first woman to organise and preside over a Games. Bakoyannis, whose first husband was assassinated by the 17 November terrorist group, is Athens' first-ever woman mayor and the first woman to be to the mayoral host of an Olympics. Again, like Mrs A, she is a mother, speaks numerous languages and is politically ambitious, already tipped as the next foreign minister should her party win the May elections, as seems likely.

Gianna strikes out for another truce

Back in the days of Ancient Greece, men raced and wrestled in the nude and women were barred from watching, let alone running in them (and certainly running them as is happening now). Then they used to call what was known as the Olympic Truce to bring a temporary halt to the War Games. But it has taken womanly wiles to make it happen again some 3,000 years later. This time it is not about the laying down of arms but the taking up of shovels. This past week Athens has been hit by a strike of municipal bin men, with piles of uncollected rubbish left to rot. Taxi drivers also briefly went on strike for 48 hours but prospective Games visitors need not fear having to tramp smelly streets. For Mrs Angelopoulos has negotiated with union leaders for the Games to be a strike-free zone.

AEK is familar acronym here, as one of the Greek trinity of European football representatives, but there is now another buzzword in the Olympic city. The International Olympic Committee's Co-ordination Commission have scuppered the gloom and doom merchants by more or less giving the Games preparations the AOK.

The outstanding concerns are the completion of the 12-tonne canopy over the main Olympic stadium, and the suburban train and tramway system, which remain behind schedule. But Britain's Craig Reedie, a member of the 15-person IOC inspection team who have visited Athens 11 times, says: "Clearly there are still things to be done but they build things very quickly here and I have always believed they will be ready on time." Reedie yesterday left Athens on another mission. With bid vice-chairman Sebastian Coe he is flying the flag for London 2012 at the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, which should cement support from Commonwealth IOC members.

They were checking us for firearms at the Inter-continental Hotel here last week. Not for walking in with them - but possibly walking out with them.

The hotel has been hosting a truly astonishing exhibition of UK-manufactured armoury and high-tech surveillance equipment, some of which seemed to have been designed by James Bond's man Q. Presumably Olympic organisers were comfortable with this as it was done under the auspices of the British Embassy and Greece say that Britain is their most important ally in organising Olympic security. Apparently, the intention was not to give would-be terrorists ideas but to show how British products could be used for VIP protection and to combat terrorism.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

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