Friday, January 09, 2004


Here in Athens, the signs that the Olympic Games are just months away are inescapable – and it’s not just the Olympic adverts and billboards that assault you from the moment yuou step off the plane . The city is one big building site; Roads are being dug up, tram lines laid, stadia built, and the skyline is studded with cranes.

There’s no doubt about it – the pressure is on.

Greeks are all too aware that the world expects them to fail. It’s a matter of fundamental national pride that the country proves wrong those who believe Athens won’t be ready in time for the opening ceremony on August 13th.

The logistics involved in hosting the Games are breathtakingly complex: A budget of almost 2 billion Euros to prepare for 5.3 million spectators watching 28 sports in 35 different venues, covered by 21,500 media representatives and policed by 41,000 security officials. Yesterday, I visited the International Broadcasting Centre, where I’m likely to be based for the duration of the Games. At the moment it’s just an empty shell of breezeblocks and steel. It’s difficult to believe that for a few weeks in August it’ll be home to thousands of journalists and technicians and powered by enough electricity to maintain a city of 40,000 people.

From what I’ve seen, the signs that the city will be ready to host the Games are generally encouraging – the main Olympic Stadium is taking shape and the new Olympic roads are gradually opening up. Still, the timetable for completion of some of the major projects is nailbitingly tight. Any unforeseen delays, however small, could cause huge problems. The feeling here is that the weeks running up to the start of the Games will be like an episode of “Changing Rooms” with builders rushing frantically to apply the paint and put the carpets down before the owners arrive to see their transformed house.

Ultimately, though, everyone knows that even if there’s traffic gridlock on the streets and chaos outside the Olympic villages, provided that the athletes are happy and the events look good on television then the Games will be judged a success.

Not that many Athenians will be watching. For one thing, the relatively high ticket prices mean many of the city’s residents can’t afford to see the sports taking place in their own backyards. For another, thousands of people who live here are planning to escape for the mad month of August. They’ll be heading abroad or to their hometowns. There’s big money to be made renting out city centre apartments while are the Games are on.

Other Athenians, though, are choosing to stay put. The Olympics represent a huge cash bonanza for the city. Bar owners, hoteliers, shopkeepers and taxi drivers intend to make hay while the sun shines.

So, with just over 200 days to go until the Olympic flame returns to the spiritual home of the Games, the countdown is very much on. Will Athens be ready in time? The city has no choice but to ensure that it is.


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