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Athens says it's ready
July 30, 2004 19:44 IST
Athens was finally declared ready for the Olympics on Friday with all venues and transport projects operational two weeks before the opening ceremony.
The final piece of the transport puzzle is in place after the opening of the rail link to the airport while the Olympic village welcomed its first athletes.
"Today is a great day, all venues have been delivered," Games general secretary Spyros Capralos told reporters.
"The Games have begun for us with the opening of the Olympic village."
Greek organisers were committed to handing over finished venues by the end of July and Capralos admitted that not all the stadiums had been completed ahead of the 16-day Games.
"Of course there is some work going on inside the venues," he said. Work is scheduled to continue until the last minute on the showpiece main stadium which will host the August 13 opening ceremony.
Athens will welcome 10,500 athletes from 202 nations and the first of these were finding their way around the 2,292-apartment athletes' village northwest of the capital.
After years of criticism over in-fighting, bureaucracy and delays Greek ministers said Athens had triumphed against the odds.
Alternate Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia, in charge of Olympic preparations, said Athens was "ready from all perspectives" during a visit to the International Broadcast Centre which will beam Games-time pictures to the world.
Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said the completion of the airport rail link was a vindication for Greek planners.
"Despite the fact that even a few months ago no one believed that the suburban rail would be completed, despite the serious concerns of the IOC... we did it," said Liapis.
Organisers were shown a 'yellow card' by the IOC in 2000 and warned the Games could be taken away from the home of both the ancient and modern Olympics unless matters improved.
The Games' costs have soared to more than seven billion dollars, more than double those of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and 30 percent more than initially expected. The security plan alone will cost $1.2 billion.
The light rail line, that along with the expanded metro system will connect the new airport with the city centre, was among the most troublesome infrastructure projects.
It joins the coastal tram, a refurbished electric train, expanded bus fleet and hundreds of kilometres of new roads to complete the Games-time transport network.
Teething troubles remain as the Greek capital and its four million inhabitants adjust to the new services.
Tram passengers have experienced bad delays while service to the airport will be limited for the first week of operation.
Greek organisers have appealed to Athenians not to use their cars to try to ease congestion ahead of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of tourists, officials and athletes.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard sought to defuse a row with Athens caused by comments on Thursday that he was worried about the safety of Australia's athletes in Greece.
Howard said he was confident Greek officials had done all they could but stood by his comments ahead of the first Summer Games since the September 11 attacks on the United States.
"I don't mean any offence to the Greek government, I'm just stating the obvious," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.