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Athens Leaders Try To Reassure IOC

September 29, 1999

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ With the IOC in Athens for the first time since the city was awarded the 2004 Olympics two years ago, organizers are trying to put dispel reports of delays and disorganization.

Although organizers claim preparations are on schedule, one president has already quit, local media report Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis is unhappy with preparations, and the government denies rumors the general manager may step down.

``We are right where we should be, right on time. There is a schedule that we are following that does not allow a lot of delays,″ said George Kazantzopoulos, a member of the projects coordination division.

Organizers hope to show there are no delays to the IOC executive board, which holds four days of meetings starting Friday. It’s the first board meeting in Athens since the games were awarded in Sept. 1997.

``There is no period for laxity,″ said Costas Bakouris, general manager of the 16-month-old Athens committee.

But there already have been some setbacks. The 2004 president, Stratis Stratigis, resigned July 6. He reportedly quit following a feud with the Socialist government over his intention to attend the wedding of the daughter of Greece’s deposed king.

Local media have reported that Simitis may replace Bakouris with Niki Tzavella, who he hand-picked as the committee’s vice president.

Criticism has also focused on the fact that no new Olympic construction has taken place since Athens was awarded the games.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch ``is aware of the schedule, so he won’t be surprised this time when he learns that no brick will be laid until 2001,″ Bakouris said after meeting Simitis earlier this week.

Although 75 percent of the venues were already built before the bid was won, the remaining sites include large-scale projects like the Olympic Village, which will house about 16,000 athletes.

The Olympic Village will be built in northwestern Athens on land that is privately owned by 2,500 people. It can only be sold with an unanimous decision, so it will have to expropriated.

The land, originally outside of the municipality limits, had to be included in the town’s zoning plans, a process that took eight months.

Construction funding, estimated at $384 million, will come from a public housing organization, which will then turn the village into homes for workers.

Village construction is scheduled for mid-2001 with completion 6 months before the games.

The first sports venue slated for construction is the equestrian center. An existing horse center has to be moved from its current location near the city center by August 2001, so that a multipurpose sports complex can be built in its place.

The most controversial of all venues, the rowing and canoeing center, will be constructed in the seaside town of Schinias, 48 miles north of the center.

Organizers claim plans for two man-made channels on what is now an airport will revitalize the area’s ecosystem. Environmentalists counter it will destroy Athens’ most significant coastal habitat.

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