Rogge ready to hit roof over delays

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The Independent Online

Wild rumours have been running around Olympic circles that provisional arrangements have been made secretly for the forthcoming Games to be switched from Athens should the Greeks not come up to scratch in the race to complete facilities. Nonsense, say the International Olympic Committee. They will go ahead on schedule come what may - and in any case, there is simply nowhere else to go.

Wild rumours have been running around Olympic circles that provisional arrangements have been made secretly for the forthcoming Games to be switched from Athens should the Greeks not come up to scratch in the race to complete facilities. Nonsense, say the International Olympic Committee. They will go ahead on schedule come what may - and in any case, there is simply nowhere else to go.

It would be impossible at this stage to fall back on previous venues such as Sydney, Barcelona or Munich for both logistical and practical reasons. They simply could not be ready on time - so the fervent hope is that Athens will be.

No doubt this will be one of the issues discussed this weekend when a heavyweight IOC delegation hold talks with Karamanlis. Led by the boss himself, Jacques Rogge, the impromptu visit is designed to give Greece a public vote of confidence in their ability to deliver the Games but at the same time seek reassurance from the new PM that fingers are being extracted to ensure this happens.

Rogge is already querying why the new government still feel it essential that the 13,000-tonne, £80m steel-and-glass roof, which hangs over the completion of the Olympic stadium like a Sword of Damocles, goes ahead. Designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this is way behind schedule. Rogge said yesterday he has given Karamanlis a file listing his greatest worries and a two-week deadline to take tough decisions over building delays, especially the roof. "There is a window of opportunity to study the file and take decisions."

Britain's Craig Reedie, a member of the IOC's Co-ordination Commission, who are due to make their final inspection visit to Athens in May, remains sanguine. "The consistent feedback we get from the IOC's own construction experts is that provided there are no more delays most work can be completed on time, although there are doubts about the roof. But some corners may have to be cut. All necessary facilities should be in place but athletes may have to do without things such as landscaping of the Village gardens."

History shows that at similar stages before almost all modern Olympics such fears have surfaced about the tard-iness of construction and preparations. Calling off the Games even before they have begun has virtually become an Olympic event itself.

Yet there is no doubt that with just 152 days to go before the opening ceremony, the Games Greeks have labelled "The Homecoming" are looking more like the Unfinished Symphony. Even the diva who is orchestrating them, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, has admitted concern that pro-gress has fallen behind on work at several sites, not least the main stadium.

Of the 39 Olympic venues, only 24 have been fully completed, and many transport infrastructure projects are also lagging behind. Some delivery deadlines have been postponed to within two weeks of the start of the Games in August, which means it could be touch and go.

However, the change of government in Greece as a result of last weekend's general election, which ended 11 years of socialist rule, may also bring a change of fortune for the Games organisers. The new prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, has assumed personal responsibility for the Olympic project, placing himself in charge of the supervising Culture Ministry, and he is certain to have a much closer working relationship with Angelopoulos, a former MP whose political sympathies are firmly with his right-wing New Democracy Party.

She will now report directly to him and, according to an Athens 2004 source, "she will no longer have to shout and bang tables to get what she wants ­ and there has been plenty of that in the past few months. Also, the new government, and Karamanlis himself, will want to take the credit for a successful Games. They dare not risk inter-national embarrassment".

Yet Mrs A's team are not out of the woods yet. For the election has cost them the key figure of Costas Kartalis, the English-educated general secretary of Athens 2004 and third in the organisational hierarchy. He has quit, despite pleas from the prime minister to stay on, because, as an appointee of the previous regime, he felt politically compromised about working for the new government. "It would be difficult for him to pick up the phone and pressure ministers since he would be a socialist in a conservative government," said the source. "This is a big problem, for he will be hard to replace."

Chaos, a word coined by the Greeks, has been bandied about of late, but in essence the situation is far from that state. Rough around the edges, perhaps, but the Games will be ready for opening time in August. Even if it is on Friday the thirteenth.

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