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  Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK
Greeks must go spiritual
The Parthenon at Athens
Can Athens be a successful host in 2004?
BBC Sport's Gordon Farquhar argues that Athens must play to its strengths rather than try to outdo Sydney.

City officials in Athens collapsed in disbelief when Atlanta was handed the 1996 centenary games ahead of them.

How could the IOC overlook the compelling historical reasons for the games to go to Greece 100 years after Baron Pierre de Coubertain re-invented the modern Olympiad?

Well, quite easily it seems.


Athens needs to be a different Games, to dwell on the history and emphasise the more spiritual side of Olympism

Atlanta's bid was slick, well organised, and enjoyed the support of its biggest home-town industries, Coca Cola, and CNN.

A shame then that the delivery of the games itself was at times shambolic, frequently frustrating, and always over commercialised.

The Athenians learned from their mistake that getting the Olympics is not a right, but a privilege, and duly secured the 2004 Games.

  How they voted for
2004 Olympics City
(Sept 1997, Lausanne)
Round One:
Athens 32, Buenos Aires 16, Cape Town 16, Rome 23, Stockholm 20.
Round Two:
Buenos Aires 44, Cape Town 62.
Round Three:
Athens 38, Cape Town 22, Rome 28, Stockholm 19.
Round Four:
Athens 52, Cape Town 20, Rome 35.
Round Five:
Athens 66, Rome 41.

Bidding however was the easy bit, as the Greeks have now discovered.

The Greeks knew in 1997 that they would be the hosts in 2004, but seemed to forget that seven years isn't long to deliver on your promises.

By most accounts, including those of the IOC's inspection teams, Athens did very little for the first three years, a period of inactivity punctuated only by political argument, infighting, and several sackings.

The culture minister fell out with the public works minister, who fell out with the organisers who didn't see eye to eye with the government, and so on.

IOC's Dick Pound
Pound put Athens on amber alert

All of which might make for amusing anecdotes, but doesn't get an Olympic games organised.

Soon, the tone from IOC headquarters in Lausanne went from slightly perturbed to strong rebuke.

Juan Antonio Samaranch said the Games was the most behind in its organisation during his 20 years in charge.

Marketing head, and then vice-president Dick Pound rated the concerns as eight or nine out of ten.

Flirting with disaster

Athens was put on amber alert, and given three months to show some serious improvements

Post-Sydney, there was serious talk of the games being taken away from Athens.

That seemed to galvanise the Greeks, and talk of losing the Games has now receded.

The most recent IOC inspection visits report satisfaction with the state of progress, although many projects are flirting with disaster in terms of deadlines.


The IOC must continue to make encouraging noises, whilst crossing its collective fingers

The Olympic village, ring roads, suburban rail link to the airport and two new metro lines are among the major works to be completed.

No-one is in any doubt that any further delays will be disastrous.

However, it is too late now to switch to another venue, and the IOC must continue to make encouraging noises, whilst crossing its collective fingers.

There is no point Athens trying to better the Sydney Games.

Athens needs to be a different Games, to dwell on the history, emphasise the more spiritual side of Olympism, and its determination to be the peaceful Games.

But I suspect there will still be a few sleepless nights left for all concerned.

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20 Jun 01 | Sport Front Page
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