Originally created 02/15/02

IOC official says Athens was never asked to do more than it agreed to



ATHENS, Greece -- An IOC official overseeing Greek preparations for the 2004 Games expressed surprise Thursday about angry comments by the culture minister concerning Olympic construction projects.

Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said earlier this week that the International Olympic Committee was mistreating Greece and the government had no obligation to build roads to please the IOC.

"We were a little bit surprised by the position he expressed," said IOC official Denis Oswald, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Salt Lake City. "We have the feeling that our position and our action has been misunderstood.

"We wanted to have the opportunity to put these things straight and avoid this misunderstanding, also among the Greek people," he said.

IOC officials have acknowledged Greek efforts to make up for three years of lost time in construction projects, but they have repeatedly warned that chronic delays have placed the 2004 Games at risk.

After returning from a visit to Salt lake City, Venizelos had said that "the lesson for me is that we do not have to prove anything."

"It (the IOC) acts differently toward a country with 10 million people, which thinks it has to defend itself, and it acts differently toward a superpower ... that controls the world. We have to act with greater dignity and efficiency," Venizelos said.

Oswald stressed the IOC is a partner with Greece in organizing the games. The IOC, he added, is also putting up $1 billion of the Athens organizing committee's $3.3 billion budget.

"We want quality games and we think that good games should also provide a good legacy for the country," Oswald said. "At the end, the Greek people will profit from the investments and the improvements in the infrastructure for the games, but these improvements are also necessary for the games."

Many Athenians have become increasingly vocal about their objections to the games as construction begins at long-delayed venues. Government officials have also canceled two important interchanges on a main avenue leading to the main Olympic complex.

Traffic congestion is a major difficulty in this city of nearly 5 million people, and the government had promised the IOC it would extend and widen highways to ease the problem during the Olympics.

Oswald said last month that traffic and a shortage of accommodations were Athens' two biggest problems.

"We have the obligation to facilitate the traffic. We have no obligation to build road works," Venizelos had said. "This is something we are doing for the city, so we will not place it under control of the International Olympic Committee."

Oswald said that Greece asked to be the host of the games, and is obliged to honor its contract.

"Greece requested the honor and responsibility ... to organize the games and they were awarded the games based on a number of commitments they made in the bid process," Oswald said.