Olympic officials blame bureaucracy for delays

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The Independent Online

Top officials planning the 2004 Olympics blamed government bureaucracy for delays today, but vowed to restore international confidence in Athens within one month.

Premier Costas Simitis met with the head of the 2004 organising committee while Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos held closed-door talks with an International Olympic Committee envoy. The meetings were part of the fallout from severe criticism of Athens' planning by the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

"I think in about one month the climate will have changed. There will not be this distrust," said Pangalos, whose ministry is in charge of Olympics preparations.

Samaranch warned Athens last week that the games could be in jeopardy unless drastic and immediate organisational changes were made. Samaranch also suggested Greece set up a special government ministry to deal with the Olympics, similar to one created by the 2000 games host Sydney.

"I believe that the statements accurately depict reality," Pangalos said. "We are now entering a period that is much more pressured."

After his meeting with Simitis, committee president Panayiotis Thomopoulos cited a problem with hotel accommodations and broadcasting as one of the many areas of delay. Athens organisers have not signed an agreement with hotel unions and there are fears there could be a 25,000-bed shortfall.

"There is a small delay ... in the issue of the agreement with the hoteliers ... there is also a small delay as far as making some studies for the broadcasting center. That is a very difficult issue," Thomopoulos said.

But both Thomopoulos and Pangalos said bureaucratic delays were the main reason for the setbacks, which also include areas such as security and anti-terrorism measures.

Pangalos, who met with IOC Director-General Francois Carrard, suggested Greece get government ministers directly involved in the Olympic planning rather than lower-level officials.

Neither Pangalos nor Carrard would comment after the meeting, which did not include members of the local organising committee.

Pangalos is scheduled to meet with Jacques Rogge, who heads the IOC panel that oversees the Athens games next week in Brussels, Belgium.

Pangalos also said he plans to meet with Samaranch within the month.