Athens 2004 Receives a Serious Warning
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 20 -- IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch has given a yellow warning light to organizers of the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics hinting they could even lose the Games unless they improved their performance by the end of the year. Samaranch expressed his concern at the lack of progress in Athens after the Greeks had presented their latest progress report to the IOC Executive Board and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. Speaking at a press conference following three days of meetings, the IOC president said he told the Greeks that organizing the Games involved three possible phases: "green" where everything is proceeding smoothly, "yellow" where there are many problems, and red where the "Games are in danger." "I told them we are at the end of the yellow phase," Samaranch said. "If from now until the end of the year there are no drastic changes, we will enter the red phase." "The Games were awarded to Athens more than 2-1/2 years ago. There are only four years to the opening ceremony. It is time for the government to take the responsibility," Samaranch said. But despite the alarm bells, Samaranch felt the Games would still be staged in Athens, the site of the first Modern Olympics in 1896. "I cannot imagine the Games will not be held in Athens," he said. "They have the capacity to stage the Games. We hope after this warning things will go in the right way. We are fully optimistic there will be changes very soon. "If at the end of the year no measures have been taken, then we will see," Samaranch added. "What I said today publicly, I said to the organising committee some months ago. "But now, after the Greek elections, it is the right moment to say publicly that the International Olympic Committee and the federations are very much worried about what is going on in Athens. "In the next days there will be important meetings between members of the IOC and very high authorities in Greece and I hope that between now and the end of the year many things will change. Athens had almost 75 percent of its stadia ready when it was awarded the Games in September 1997. But progress has been slow since then and there have been problems over the re-location of several sports venues and concerns regarding accommodation and transportation. IOC Executive Board member Jacques Rogge, who chairs the co-ordination commission overseeing the Athens Games, said he would press the Greek government to make urgent improvements. "There are still four years left, but we have have concerns about the structure and functioning of the organizing committee, venue construction and transport," Rogge said. "What is needed is a bit more sense of urgency and to understand the scope of the Games. Our partners do not understand what the Games are." ASOIF president Denis Oswald, the Swiss IOC member who heads the international swimming federation, voiced the concern felt by the federations. "We have serious concerns about the preparation of the Games," he said.