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Athens - it's finished but is it ready?

Comment

Opening ceremonies for major sporting events are often a time for casual armchair amusement for those of us used to watching them on television.

Who can forget Diana Ross's spectacular penalty miss at the start of the 1994 World Cup in the United States? The goals were big and the ball was close to them, but despite the minute preparations for the event, Ross punted the ball many metres wide of the target.

Which brings us to Athens. Next Friday, the 2004 Olympics open in the Greek capital, bringing the largest sporting event on the planet to one of the smallest countries ever to host it. As the opening ceremony looms, one wonders just how smoothly things will go, given the rush to get ready.

All of the Olympic venues are now complete in construction terms, but commissioning seems to have been something of an afterthought. Late running construction delayed fit out and landscaping work to the point where much was still in evidence when NCE visited Athens last week.

The delays, plus last minute changes imposed by the Athens 2004 organisers, have eaten up all of the time normally needed to overcome initial teething problems.

This includes anything from sophisticated television facilities to scoreboards, lighting and sound systems.

In this context the floodlit opening ceremony alone looks hugely ambitious, with its plan to flood part of the stadium to create a giant boating lake before draining it again during the event.

Lighting and sound systems will be key, as will the logistics of organising the hundreds of athletes taking part.

Aside from the venues, the city's Olympic transport plan looks to be little more than a shambles, offering little assurance to spectators that they will be able to reach events easily.

Huge resources have been thrown at completing the Marathon Road widening, but one key bus/rail interchange is far from complete, and one of three new metro stations serving one of the sports venues is unfinished. The cut and cover station box also runs under a key road route, which still has to be repaved.

With so much work still unfinished, the prospect of something going wrong as the Olympics unfolds looks increasingly inevitable. Let's hope any resulting embarrassment equates to little more than Diana Ross' spectacular but inconsequential attempts at football Andrew Bolton is NCE's news editor.

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