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IOC chief defends Athens organisers

Athens: IOC chief Jacques Rogge has sprung to the defence of Athens organisers with a resounding vote of confidence in their ability to stage Games fit for the country where the Olympics were born.

Rogge said that after a slow start, preparations were back on track. “We are pleased by the pace of progress now,” Rogge said in a telephone interview on Monday, in the week that Athens starts the one-year countdown to next August’s Games.

“Unless something unforeseen happens they are going to make it if they keep up this pace.” However, he warned there was “still a lot to do” and time would chase organisers right up until the last minute before the opening ceremony on August 13, 2004.

“They must keep up the present sense of urgency and not relax for a minute,” Rogge said. “With the launch of a space shuttle if you uncover even a minor problem you can delay takeoff for a week. With the Games you can’t delay for even an hour.”

While not dismissing the seriousness of shortcomings uncovered last week in the first of a series of test events this month, Rogge said that “paradoxically” the trials were meant to expose flaws. In general, operations and infrastructure at the rowing and archery venues stood up very well.

The rowing venue came in for the most criticism with the German team forced to withdraw with food poisoning and strong winds forcing events to be held up for nearly two days.

The setbacks dashed organisers’ hopes of showing during this month’s venue testing that much-criticised preparations were back on track.

“Mistakes have been discovered in the planning of sports events, in hospitality, among volunteers, while communications and crisis management functions didn’t work,” the respected newspaper Eleftherotypia, one of the country’s largest, and normally pro-government, said.

Rogge said Greece, as the home of both the ancient and modern Olympics, had to live with greater scrutiny than any other previous Olympic city.

“The burden of expectation on Greece as the birthplace of the Olympics is greater than for any other country. Much greater,” said Rogge. (Reuters)

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