Nebiolo on attack as spectators shun Athens

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The Independent Online
Primo Nebiolo, the International Amateur Athletic president, yesterday attacked the Athens authorities for not promoting the World Championships sufficiently after the stadium was only half full for Sunday's 100 metres finals, the event's biggest night.

As Athens enters the final weeks of its campaign to host the 2004 Olympics, television pictures showing thousands of empty seats were broadcast around the world while the American Maurice Greene was winning an exciting battle with Donovan Bailey for the men's 100 title.

While Athens' old Olympic stadium was packed for Friday's opening ceremony when Vangelis played "Chariots of Fire" and dancers pretended to be athletes, the sight of real runners at the two opening days at the weekend has not had the same local appeal.

"There has maybe not been a great campaign of promotion," said Nebiolo, who is also backing Rome's rival bid for the 2004 Games.

More than 53,000 seats in the Olympic stadium have been made available to the public. While the 1993 championships in Stuttgart and the 1995 championships in Gothenburg enjoyed bumper crowds, Athens has struggled.

Nebiolo is in a difficult position diplomatically at these championships since Athens and Rome are regarded as being the two favourites to win the International Olympic Committee vote to host the Games next month. The success or failure of these championships could be an important factor.

The Greeks immediately countered the criticism by saying that the nine- day programme was too long. "The programme is too big. Six days would have been better," said the Greek National Olympic Committee chief, Lambis Nikolaou. "Perhaps the prices are too high."

Nebiolo said the IAAF had decided to prevent any repetition of action by supporters of the Athens bid after a huge banner was displayed in the stadium on Saturday and Sunday. The IAAF does not allow advertising in the stadium from any of the five cities bidding for the Games. Athens and Rome are bidding against Cape Town, Buenos Aires and Stockholm: a decision will be taken in Lausanne next month.