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New Greek Government Says Athens will be Ready

The new Greek government has assured the Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, that Athens will be ready in time to play host to the Olympic Summer Games this year.

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The "architectural jewel" of the Athens Olympic arena has been a cause of great concern for the IOC.

It has been a long running saga of "will they or won't they" but after a meeting between the new Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on Saturday the tale of Athens and the Summer Olympic Games 2004 may have a happy ending after all.

Rogge traveled to the Greek capital to test the resolve of the new conservative administration to complete the construction of Olympic venues and related infrastructure on time. And after discussions with Karamanlis, Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni, and designers and construction officials, Rogge said that he is confident Greece will complete the work for this summer's games on time and that he expected the games to be a success.

New leader takes personal responsibility

Kostas Karamanlis

Costas Karamanlis.

The main reason for the IOC chief's upbeat message appears to be the fact that Prime Minister Karamanlis (photo) has taken personal charge of the preparations. Karamanlis has put his personal reputation and political future on the line by appointing himself minister in charge of the Olympics: "For us, it is a great relief and for us it is a great satisfaction. When you work with a team, it's always easy if the boss is taking responsibility. Yes, it's going to make a difference of course," Rogge told reporters outside the prime minister's residence.

Despite the words of confidence, Rogge still remains concerned that Greece's preparations for the Olympics are still badly behind schedule. In particular, the IOC chief is concerned about serious delays in preparing the high-tech steel and glass roof of the main Olympic stadium, which is designed to be the architectural focal point of the Games in Athens.

Rogge had recently given the Greeks a chance of backing out of finishing the avant-garde roof of the main Olympic stadium, which has been bedeviled by construction problems, and save face, saying that the Games could go ahead without it.

Greeks hold firm on architectural jewel

However, that was not an option for the proud Greeks who have held up the retractable steel and glass cover, designed by Spaniard Santiago Calatrava, as the architectural jewel of the 2004 Games and the symbol of national pride.

Calatrava had been summoned to Athens to discuss the lack of progress shortly after the new government took office and, after talks with the deputy culture minister, it was announced that the roof would not be abandoned. After the talks, Calatrava -- who tried to escape from reporters through a back door -- finally declared to the throng who cornered him that everything was going very well with this magnificent installation.

Other concerns that have given the IOC headaches include the installation of new railway lines and tramways which have also fallen behind schedule.

Two week deadline for assessment

Neuer IOC-Präsident

Jacques Rogge.

At the end of Saturday's meeting, Rogge (photo) gave the Greek government two weeks to study a list of faults in its Olympic build-up and prepare a response with solutions and time frames for rectification for the next time they have contact.

Although most of the problems have occurred during the governance of the former Socialist administration, which was roundly defeated in last Sunday's Greek general election, Rogge refused to criticize those ultimately responsible for the delays and said it was not upto the Greek people to work with their new administration to get the construction work finished and the details fine tuned to make the Athens Games the success the city deserves.

Prime minister orders daily checks

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni told reporters as she left the meeting that under the new conservative government the building work would definitely speed up. Karamanlis is seeing to it personally that this is the case. The prime minister is leaving nothing to chance and has insisted upon daily inspections of Athens Arena building site.

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