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Olympics Still a Distant Dream for Athens

Athens unveiled the official mascots for the 2004 Olympic Games this week. But it's not fooling anybody. The games venues are still under construction and the city has miles to go before it can host the mega event.

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Athen's reputation as the birthplace of the Olympics is at risk if it jeopardises its Games bid

It’s an embarrassing moment for Athens.

The great Greek city - birthplace of the glorious Olympic spirit and host of the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896 - is struggling with a repeat performance more than a century later.

Can Athens really pull off the Olympic Games?

That’s the question being increasingly asked as International Olympic Inspectors have lambasted the lack of preparations being made in the Greek capital for the event and have even threatened to strip Athens of the 2004 Games.

An IOC inspection team that has just completed a tour of key sites around the Greek capital to check progress of stadia, Olympic and press villages and water sports spots, has expressed deep concern over Greece’s preparations, which have been plagued by cumbersome bureaucracy, inefficient organisation, delays and infighting among the local contractors and politicians.

Construction at snail's pace

The pace of construction in Athens has been frustratingly slow.

So much so that there are serious doubts among IOC officials whether some of the venues will be completed in time for the test events scheduled to take place in August 2004.

There are fears that more than 200 sailors from 40 countries who arrive in the Greek city this summer for the test events might find more of a construction site than a marina.

Enormous concrete blocks line the water’s edge and contractors claim that one of the largest cranes in Europe dredges the sea-bed. But there’s still no sign of the marina restaurants and other facilities around the site – they’re still little pictures on the drawing board.

Not enough rooms or roads

Water sports is just one of the many headaches that Greece has caused the IOC so far. Accommodation and transportation remain two big question marks.

The IOC has been sceptical of Greek government assurances that enough rooms would be found for the hordes of spectators and the Olympic family.

Until December last year, Athens had booked 16,000 rooms, including 3,000 cabins on cruise ships. The IOC has said there’s a shortage of at least 2,800 rooms. The "Olympic family" alone will require some 19,000 rooms not to speak of housing for the thousands of visitors.

Chief Athens 2004 inspector Denis Oswald during a visit in February expressed displeasure that Greece had cancelled some road projects because there was no time to finish them before the Games.

The 4,000-seat weightlifting arena, where Greece hopes to pick up most of its medals in 2004, is being built in the one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Athens.

The streets and alleys here are so narrow that spectators hoping to see the wrestlers in action could face severe delays in getting to the venue. The dense development of the area will also mean that residents might have to park their cars elsewhere if all the eager spectators want to make it to the access roads to the venue.

Though workers are working 12-hour shifts to meet the urgent deadlines, work has been severely crippled by three strikes.

Security high up on the agenda

Security is another huge worry and the IOC wants to take no chances, especially after the September 11 attacks in the US.

Greece is hiring foreign private consultancy firms from countries with Olympic or terrorism experience such as Germany, the US, Britain and Israel to plan specialised security measures for the Games. The security scheme alone will cost Greece $600 million.

Can the mascots bring a swing in fortunes?

Athen Sommerolympiade 2004 Logo

Pictured are Athena, in orange shirt, and Phevos, the mascots for the Athens 2004 Olympics presented in Athens on Thursday, April 4, 2002. The pair represent the mythical gods Athens and Phevos, another name for the god Apollo, are based on an ancient 7th century B.C. doll exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which is believed to be one of the first Greek toys. (AP Photo/HO/Athens 2004 Organizing Committee

On Thursday Greece hoped to silence its critics for awhile by unveiling the official mascots for the Games.

A brother and sister duo, Athenà and Phèvos, inspired by a 7th century BC clay doll will be the faces of the 2004 Games. The two flipper-footed, bell-shaped siblings are named after the Olympian god Apollo and Athena, the goddess protecting the city of Athens.

The two who represent the four core values of the Athens 2004 Games: heritage, participation, celebration and human scale join the ranks of other popular mascots from previous Olympic Games such as Misha from the 1980 Moscow Games and Cobi from the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Maybe Athenà and Phèvos could turn the tide of Greece’s Olympic troubles.

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