Originally created 06/12/04

Costs for Athens Olympics skyrocket



ATHENS, Greece -- A few months ago, a group of Russian rocket scientists announced an ambitious plan to send six people on a round-trip journey to Mars within a decade. It was estimated that the project would need up to $5 billion to get off the ground.

Double that and you'll get the bill Athens is facing for its own ambitious plan: hosting the Olympic Games from Aug. 13-29.

As Athens races to finish construction on costly stadiums and other infrastructure projects, a growing number of Greeks are wondering how the cost of the Olympics managed to skyrocket into the fiscal stratosphere. The European Union, already worried about rising debt among its 25 members, has also started wondering how its tiny partner will pay the bills.

The Socialist party, ousted from office in March elections, insists the Olympics will only cost about $5.5 billion. The new conservative government places that at least $1 billion higher, but concedes the costs will likely exceed that.

In fact, two months before the start of the games, one of the few certainties is that no one knows how much the Olympics will cost.

"We will know when the Olympics are over what they will cost," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said, sidestepping repeated questions from reporters about a precise figure.

Two senior ministers have already been critical of the amount of money being spent, which has been blamed on delays by the Socialists and the high price for many projects.

The price for a glass-and-steel roof fitted on the main Olympic stadium was put at $230 million by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge in an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir - three times what the previous government said it cost.

"The Olympic Games are costing us a lot more than we expected, because issues were left for the last minute," Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said recently.

If Greece had to do it over again "I don't think that we would be as excited," he said.

One of Alogoskoufis' acts in office was to borrow $6.8 billion, which his ministry explained was for "the accelerated needs to finance operational expenses of the state and Olympic works."

Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias went so far as to question whether Athens should have ever bothered bidding for the Olympics because of the high cost and work involved.

"We regret this," Rogge told Le Soir. "The Greeks will have to take a long look at this after the games."