IOC call for 'truce' among squabbling Greeks

A top IOC official has called for a "truce" among squabbling Greek organisers and government officials as they struggle to rescue the troubled 2004 Summer Games.

A top IOC official has called for a "truce" among squabbling Greek organisers and government officials as they struggle to rescue the troubled 2004 Summer Games.

Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee executive with control over the Athens Games, said the Greeks must quit bickering and close ranks to overcome three years of delays.

"I would call for a four-year truce," Rogge said in an interview. "They cannot afford to quarrel. They have to unite. Now is the time to pull all the ranks together and work in a united way."

Athens, host of the first modern Olympics in 1896, has been plagued by bureaucratic delays and political paralysis since being awarded the games in 1997.

The IOC has told Greece it must speed up preparations and increase government involvement to get the games on track.

The crisis has come into sharper focus since the close of the highly successful Sydney Games, with many observers wondering how - or if - Athens will be able to manage such a massive undertaking.

While the IOC insists no contingency plans are being discussed, speculation persists that the games could be taken away from Greece if Athens falls any further behind.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch has called for Greece to follow the model of Sydney, where the head of the organizing committee was also a government minister.

But the Greek government said last week it was not considering a Cabinet post for Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who led Athens' bid for the games and was brought back four months ago to take over the organizing committee.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki met last Thursday with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, but no progress was reported in resolving their differences.

There have been numerous reports in the Greek media that Angelopoulos-Daskalaki has threatened to resign because of disputes with government ministers.

In addition, the organizing committee has come under fire in Greece for spending U.S. $1.6 million on its hospitality offices in Sydney.

"There have been a lot of controversies in the press about the alleged lack of cooperation between the organizing committee and the government," Rogge said. "All of this is not positive. We need a very united collaboration between the organizers and the government. We also need a unity of public opinion behind the games."

Rogge said Greece has repeatedly rejected the IOC's proposal for the Athens Games to be run by an Olympics Minister.

"The government said this was not compatible with Greek political traditions," he said.

But Rogge said the IOC will accept any arrangement that ensures strong input from various ministers.

"What is important is not who does it, what is important is what the government can deliver," he said. "If they deliver with various ministers what they could do with one minister, it's irrelevant. If the result is the same, we are happy."

The organizing committee is scheduled to meet with government ministers in Athens early next week. Expected topics include disputes over organizing committee salaries and expenditures, and efforts to start tapping into the expertise of the Sydney organising team.

Rogge said the IOC is waiting to see if Athens meets the deadline of appointing a host broadcaster by the end of this month. The host broadcasting company handles the global television feed for the games.

Rogge said the next test is whether Athens agrees to move up the deadline for completion of sports venues. Around 30 percent of the facilities still need to be built.

The Greek government has set March 2004 for completion of the work, but the IOC says the timetable is unacceptable, that all venues must be ready a year earlier.

The state of Athens' preparations will come under the microscope when Rogge's IOC coordination commission next meets in Greece on November 22-24. The meeting will be followed by a two-day debriefing session for Athens by Sydney organisers.

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