Originally created 03/31/04

Government: Athens Olympic budget running into the red



ATHENS, Greece -- Olympic preparation costs have exceeded the $5.6 billion budget, and still more projects could be trimmed to reduce spending, a top planner for the games said Tuesday.

"A first inventory shows there are overruns," said Deputy Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia. "I cannot give a total estimate this minute."

The final price tag for the Aug. 13-29 games is a highly important issue in Greece. Some critics complain that the rush to overcome construction delays has escalated costs and the nation will be saddled with crippling debt for decades.

The former Socialist government, which was knocked from power by the conservative New Democracy party in March 7 elections, had repeatedly promised the budget would not increase.

But Palli-Petralia claimed the Socialists "lost control" of Olympic spending.

Most of the budget was to build or refurbish sports venues. It also includes more than $800 million for security.

According to figures released by Palli-Petralia, Culture Ministry projects alone have increased by $263 million in this year's spending.

Palli-Petralia also sent a letter to all ministers involved in Olympics preparations for an itemized accounting of their budgets.

"We must know how much all this Olympic endeavor will cost," Palli-Petralia said.

The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee - managed as a private company - has a separate budget of nearly $2.4 billion, with more than 80 percent of revenues coming from TV rights, sponsors, ticket sales and commercial use of the 2004 logo. The state is to cover at least 14 percent of the committee's budget.

Palli-Petralia also suggested the government could trim back some nonessential projects such as landscaping. Earlier this month, officials canceled a much-delayed plastic roof for the swimming venue.

Another delayed work - the steel-and-glass roof of the main Olympic stadium - will be ready by a late June deadline set by the International Olympic Committee, she promised.

The entire stadium complex is scheduled to be ready on July 20 - just three weeks before the games.

The work, however, will overlap with vital inspections and competitions by the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF.

The IAAF has said a final check of the new track surface is planned for May 16 and important pre-Olympic test events would take place June 10.