Olympic concerns

A FEW weeks ago, eleven strapping young men in white and blue shocked the football world when they won the Euro 2004 championships. Greece, the rank 80-1 outsiders, could not have weaved a better ending. It was a victory without parallel in the country's recent sporting history and over 200,000 delirious fans turned up to given their team a heroes' welcome at the stadium built in 1896 to host the world's first modern Olympics.

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Published: Sat 24 Jul 2004, 10:45 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:25 AM

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called it "the best possible invitation to the Olympic Games." In exactly 20 days from today, the world's best athletes will converge on the country's 'arenas' to put their hopes and desires to test. Some will triumph. Some will agonise. Some will win and many will lose as they sweat it out in the middle amid the noise and hoopla for the top honours, for victory will spell certain fame. But preparations for the 17-day Olympics are fraught with anxiety. Incomplete stadiums, a slow sale of tickets, security worries and a ballooning security budget has left the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having second thoughts on whether small countries with big hearts should be allowed to host future games. The security budget for the Athens Games will now be the costliest in Olympic history. With the torch about to be lit to mark the start of the games, the budget has shot up by another 25 per cent to about $1.5billion. Greek officials had previously toted up the cost of safeguarding the August 13-29 games at the more than 100 Olympic sites at $1.2 billion - about three times more than what Sydney had spent in 2000.

Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas has attributed the high costs to increasing security demands by foreign governments without going into specifics. Much of that cost has, however, been for hi-tech surveillance equipment, new weaponry and a $312 million contract for a security network. The Greek government has also asked Nato to consider dispatching a contingent of troops. But the dispatch of foreign troops or armed guards to Greece for the Olympics is a sensitive issue. The Greek constitution generally prohibits foreigners from bearing arms on its soil. There are exceptions, however, for armed guards of foreign leaders and for Nato troops. The modern Olympic games return to Greece for the first time in more than a century. And the Greek's phenomenal victory in Portugal could just spark a wave of Olympic visitors, and even if it isn't completely glitch-free, Greece will still emerge the winner. The infrastructure it has put in place will serve it for the next 20 years or more.

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