The countdown to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens has begun, but the outlook is stormy if an international regatta this week is anything to go by.
Regarded as a dress rehearsal for the Games, whose preparations have been plagued by delays and a lack of interest among the public, organisers had hoped for a flawless event to silence the critics.
But the Agios Kosmas sailing centre, south of the capital, is little more than a building site and competitors, officials and journalists are being left to endure the August heat in a tented camp.
Sailing organisations have come to the defence of the beleaguered Athens organising committee (Athoc), insisting that it is the sea conditions that are paramount. Jerome Pels, director of the International Sailing Federation, said: "The temporary facilities on land don't really matter as that's where the functional areas will be housed. We need to see how we put the race courses in the water."
But organisers admit that the regatta has become a "test for a test event" and revealed that a second meet will have to be staged next summer.
Athenians who want to see for themselves how the city's preparations are going will be disappointed. Spectators have been barred from the regatta because the 6,000-seater dockside stand has not been built.Officials don't see a problem with this. "You don't invite spectators when you're rehearsing," insisted Mr Pels.
Those hoping to see one of Greece's rarer species – the 2004 volunteer – will fare little better. Under pressure after the huge success of Sydney's army of helpers, Athoc has recruited only a third of the 200,000 it wants. The 200 volunteers at the regatta will get a sharp reminder of how times have changed since Baron de Coubertin staged the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. They will be outnumbered three-to-one by the security personnel.
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