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Greek legacy likely to be solid, reliable Games

Posted: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM; Updated: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM
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ATHENS, Aug 6 (Reuters) -- The legacy of this month's Athens Olympics may prove to be more profound and enduring than anything Greek organisers could have planned for.

Years of internal argument, delays and a testy relationship between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Athens officials have plagued the organisation of the Games which open next Friday.

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Successive Olympic presidents have been forced to cross swords with lackadaisical Greek organisers as first Juan Antonio Samaranch and then his successor Jacques Rogge issued blunt warnings.

Former Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis was dragged into the melee as organisers were accused of dragging their feet.

At least three years of preparation was reckoned to be wasted through in-fighting and bureaucracy.

In 2002 Rogge, then in charge of coordinating the organisation of the Games, highlighted those problems. "We need a sense of urgency and to understand the scope of the Games," he said.

"There is too much red tape and bureaucracy in making decisions."

CONSTRUCTION BILL

The entire episode proved less than dignified and it is unlikely the IOC will risk a similar situation in the future.

The constant internal wrangles left Athens facing a desperate race against time to get their sports facilities, transportation and accommodation in place.

The need for round-the-clock construction had hiked the bill for the Games "considerably higher" than the 4.6-billion-euro budget, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in April.

Now Rogge is president of the IOC, it seems unlikely promises and plans will be enough in the future for any city to be awarded the Games.

Firm foundations and facilities in place are likely to be the main criteria.

Athens must also contend with being the first city forced to face up to the burden of a heightened global security situation.

INCREASED SECURITY

On reflection, Sydney's 2000 Olympics belonged to a safer age. A little under a year after the closing ceremony in Australia, Al Qaeda flew two jets into New York's World Trade Center. Since then U.S.-led coalition troops have entered Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein and terror attacks have led to an increased threat to safety across the world.

The bill for securing an Olympic Games amid this heightened threat of terrorism has escalated. Some 50,000 security personnel, three times as many as in Sydney, will be on duty during the Athens Games.

The need for increased security will be a key consideration when awarding the honour of hosting the Games in future.

Certainly the five cities in the running for 2012 all seem to fit the bill. London, Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow were selected as candidate cities in May.

There are no lame ducks in the line-up, only cities of great historical, political and financial might.

The IOC will select the winner in July 2005.

But first, all eyes will be on the Greeks who welcome the Games back to their spiritual homeland for the first time in more than 100 years.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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