Originally created 02/28/04

Committee leader hedges bets on Athens success



ATHENS, Greece - When an IOC president visits a host city before the Olympics, he usually heaps praise on the organizers and predicts a fantastic games. Jacques Rogge delivered a pointedly different message Friday.

Just 51Ž2 months before the opening ceremony, Rogge talked about his expectations with a caveat: "If the Athens Games run smoothly and, I repeat, if they go smoothly."

And, in a new tone of uncertainty, the head of the Greek organizing committee expressed worry over whether some key projects will be completed in time for the Aug. 13-29 games.

"We are concerned because several challenges are in front of us," Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said. "But we haven't come this far to let challenges like these stop us now."

Also Friday, the IOC reinstated Iraq's Olympic committee, clearing the way for as many as two dozen Iraqi athletes to compete under their national flag in Athens.

Rogge's guarded assessment came in a speech at a meeting of the IOC executive board and the Association of National Olympic Committees.

His remarks contrasted sharply with his more recent upbeat comments and appeared aimed at instilling a sense of greater urgency with the Greek organizers.

"There's still a lot to do - we have only 51Ž2 months," Rogge said. "Our experts say if the pace and the rhythm of the work continues, there is enough time to finish in due time."

The IOC regularly keeps up pressure on host cities, but it's extremely rare for an IOC president to raise doubts about the success of an Olympics so close to the opening.

Rogge led the IOC's oversight panel for Athens, and this will be his first Summer Olympics as president since his election in 2001.

The comments by Rogge and the Athens organizing chief also appeared directed at government and political officials before national elections set for March 7.

The governing socialist PASOK party is being challenged by the conservative New Democracy party. A change in leadership so close to the games could further hold up Olympic preparations.

The IOC issued a strong warning to Athens organizers in 2000 after three years of delays. The government has since increased its involvement, and Angelopoulos-Daskalaki took over the organizing committee.

However, key projects remain unfinished - including the showpiece steel-and-glass roof over the main Olympic stadium designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Deadlines are also tight for a roof over the swimming venue, tram and light-rail lines and improvements to the marathon course.

Security is another major issue. The Athens Olympics are the first Summer Games since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Greece has budgeted more than $800 million for security, more than three times what was spent to make the 2000 Sydney Games safe.

Domestic violence is also a worry. On Thursday, anti-Olympic activists firebombed two government vehicles to coincide with the IOC meetings. Rogge said the Greek government was taking all possible scenarios into account in security planning.