- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

ATHENS - Built at excessive cost in a race for international prestige last summer, many Olympic sites around the Greek capital already are decaying.

The big question today is whether Greece can afford to prop up the most essential structures, thus increasing their cost, but preventing them from becoming a $5 billion wasteland.

The nation’s newspapers are blaming “shoddy workmanship and shortsighted planning,” the extent of which is being exposed six months after the euphoria of the successful Olympic Games.

“Greek citizens have been obliged to pay three or five times the quoted price of the Olympic venues,” said the conservative daily Kathimerini. “The costs were underestimated in the original budget, but the venues were also built in great haste and with no transparency.”

While the authorities are debating the extent of the problem, the question of funding of the rescue operation has become a burning one after the European Union (EU) issued a “wake-up call” about Greece’s alarming inflation rate.

The estimated 4.2 percent inflation in 2005 has put Greece near the bottom of the list of 25 EU members, including the 10 admitted last May. Moreover, as one official pointed out, “as the new members absorb a big share of economic aid, EU funds going to Greece will shrink. The threat is real, not fiction.”

The question of what to do with an array of projects constructed for the Olympics emerged shortly after the games concluded in August.

Suggestions were made that the new sports facilities and the various related projects could best be used if Athens became a “permanent venue” for the games, since Greece is where the Olympics concept was born.

According to one assessment, “giving the games a permanent home here would eliminate much of the lobbying, pandering and downright bribery that have marred the selection process for so long.”

Since then, however, construction faults, some of them dramatic and costly, have dwarfed such an ambitious project and put unexpected financial pressure on the authorities.

The list of sites requiring immediate assistance is growing.

One of them is the marathon route, damaged by accumulating rainwater, and the nearby $500 million tramway line, which has blocked drainage works in several fashionable seaside resorts.

According to Theodoros Dragiotis, secretary-general of the Technical Chamber of Greece, “before the games, we rushed to finish the road’s surface.”

“Now we have to close the route to traffic to complete the drainage works.”

Equally faulty is the much-admired Olympic Stadium roof, a $340 million project designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, as well as a pedestrian bridge over Mesogeion Avenue, also designed by Mr. Calatrava. The bridge, said to have been built with wood of substandard quality, has been closed for the past month.

Major repairs also are required at the Peace and Friendship Stadium, the Olympic swimming pool and the International Broadcasting Center.

“Cracks, blocked drains and leaking roofs abound” at the Olympic sites, concluded the Kathimerini daily.

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