Inside Lines: IOC pressure as Athens faces final countdown

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The Independent Online

Tension tightens in Athens, not only because of last week's bomb blasts but because tomorrow sees the final visit of the International Olympic Committee's Co-ordination Commission. This multi-national team, which includes Britain's Craig Reedie, will demand fresh assurances that the Greeks will make it to the starting tape on 13 August. The progress chasers, led by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald, will be in more than their earlier knuckle-wrapping mode if they feel the lingering delays could affect either safety or performances. The probability is that they will pronounce themselves satisfied that it can be done - just. Both Reedie and his BOA chief executive Simon Clegg, who was in Athens last weekend, support that view. Clegg also insists that the bombings would not change the security strategy for Team GB, which has been planned "with meticulous detail". As we report in the News section, the United States are considering housing some of their "Dream Team" basketball superstars on board the liner Queen Ma

Tension tightens in Athens, not only because of last week's bomb blasts but because tomorrow sees the final visit of the International Olympic Committee's Co-ordination Commission. This multi-national team, which includes Britain's Craig Reedie, will demand fresh assurances that the Greeks will make it to the starting tape on 13 August. The progress chasers, led by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald, will be in more than their earlier knuckle-wrapping mode if they feel the lingering delays could affect either safety or performances. The probability is that they will pronounce themselves satisfied that it can be done - just. Both Reedie and his BOA chief executive Simon Clegg, who was in Athens last weekend, support that view. Clegg also insists that the bombings would not change the security strategy for Team GB, which has been planned "with meticulous detail". As we report in the News section, the United States are considering housing some of their "Dream Team" basketball superstars on board the liner Queen Mary II, which is to be used as a high-level security floating hotel for VIPs and heads of state, berthed in Piraeus, rather than the Olympic Village. And the Australians say they will have two jets standing by to evacuate their athletes in the event of a terrorist attack. Last week we reported how the new Greek minister in charge of security has authorised round-the-clock armed guards for "high-risk" nations including Britain. Clegg declines to discuss any special arrangements for the 292-strong GB team, all of whom will stay in the village, but you can be sure that wherever British athletes go, British minders won't be far behind. And they are likely to be more SAS than Group 4.

Will the new lord be succeeded by a lady?

Now that Home Secretary Jack Straw's great buddy Patrick Carter has been elevated to the House of Lords as a "working peer", how much longer will he remain as the chairman of Sport England? The word in Westminster is that he is likely to be fast-tracked into a ministerial role which would enable him to sort out the prisons crisis. He is currently a member of the Home Office General Board and is also a former non-executive director of the prison service. If he does become a minister, Straw's best man and old Brentwood School chum would have to step down from the chair at Sport England, where his cost-cutting zeal has brought about massive redundancies (though salaries of senior executives have increased). Could his departure pave the way for another Goverment favourite, Sue Campbell, interim chair of UK Sport, to take over in a move that conveniently might result in marriage between the two quangos? Meantime as Carter leapfrogs it to the Lords, outspoken predecessor Trevor Brooking still remains curiously unknighted. Why?

London calls in the swooper troopers

There may be just 95 days left before lift-off (or lift-on, as far the roof is concerned) in Athens but London has a D-Day fast approaching, too. Nine days from now the IOC will decide in Lausanne whether the capital has made the cut for the 2012 Games bid. Not to do so would be a shock of seismic proportions, but nothing can be taken for granted. Which is why all the stops are being pulled out to show the world that London can handle all the troublesome baggage that comes with the Games, not least transportation of spectators and athletes. Thus a corps of what are termed "swoopers", experts involved in previous Games, have been called in to advise on transport plans which have an ambitious look about them. Wish them luck. The Circle Line was closed again yesterday.

An impressive assembly of the great, the good and the deserving will carry the Olympic Torch through London on Saturday 26 June, starting at Wimbledon with Tim Henman and ending 11 boroughs later in The Mall with, one might guess, Sir Steve Redgrave or Sir Roger Bannister.

Along the 48km route, spectators will see old flames such as Ian Botham, Frank Bruno, Audley Harrison, Matthew Pinsent, Sally Gunnell, Michael Watson and Sir Richard Branson. But one big name is missing from the line-up. What, no Jonny Wilkinson? Apparently, England's rugby hero and Sports Personality of the Year was invited, but declined because of the possibility of his involvement in the Test series Down Under. Pity. But the BOA's Simon Clegg promises "a staggering day". And for one ageing, paunchy hack it will be - literally. Yours truly has been asked to "run" a leg as Athens will be my 10th Olympics. Torch bearer? Let's hope there's a stretcher bearer handy!

Jonny Wilkinson is not only a non-runner in the Olympic Torch Relay, but he is also looking like a no-show for Monday's Laureus Awards.

His name appears on the shortlist but not the guest list which suggests he does not fancy his chances too much of winning one of sport's annual "Oscars" ahead of the likes of Michael Schumacher and Lance Armstrong. This year's event, featuring the usual A-list glitterati of sport and showbiz, has been switched from Monte Carlo to Estoril, where no doubt Portugal's security muscles will be flexed ahead of next month's Euro 2004 finals. Muhammad Ali won't be there, but his amazing 800-page book "G.O.A.T - Greatest Of All Time", which weighs 54kg and costs £2,000, will be auctioned for charity.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

Exit Lines

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