By Philip Hersh
ATHENS - The visiting delegation from the U.S. OlympicCommittee would be arriving in an hour for a dinnercruise to the island of Aegina.
At the far end of a U-shaped dock at Paleo Faliro, amarina only a few miles south of the city center, apolice van cruised in the drizzle of an early Novemberevening, waiting for the boat that was to pick up theU.S. group.
Suddenly there was movement in the water under theslip where the tour boat would tie up. A few secondslater, two divers came to the surface, then climbed outof the water after spending about 45 minutes checkingthe area for explosive devices.
The last thing they want is an incident less than ayear before the Olympics,'' said Herman Frazier, chef demission for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. So the 40-odd U.S. team leaders and USOC employees hadpolice escorts and accompanying plainclothes securitypersonnel everywhere they went on a recent weeklonginspection trip. As their trip ended, FBI DirectorRobert Mueller arrived in Athens to hector Greekauthorities about the security planning. With less than nine months left before the Aug. 13opening of the 2004 Olympic Games, considerable concerns remain aboutwhether major infrastructure projects will be completed.But from U.S. officials' perspective, security seems tobe the overriding issue. During an embassy reception for the U.S. Olympic groupat his Athens residence, Ambassador Thomas Miller openeda conversation with a visitor by mentioning security.According to Chicago Tribune sources, the embassy staffrecently has been enlarged by about 200 people whosefunctions are either security or security-related. The issue seems to be one endemic to such plans -problems in coordination, or turf battles, among thevarious national and international agencies. U.S.officials seem fixated on that aspect of the $755million Olympic security operation. We are preparing the biggest event after 9/11,’‘Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis said.
There are a lot ofagencies involved, and Greece has the responsibility ofcoordination. For years, Greece had a bad relationship with theEuropean Union and the United States on security issues.That has changed in the last three or four years. Ourcollaboration with the different agencies has been puton a completely different level since the battle withour own terrorist organization.’’
Greek officials say that group, known as November 17,was dismantled by arrests of its leaders in summer 2002.The group’s victims included Bakoyannis’ husband,Pavlos, a deputy in the Greek parliament who was shot todeath in 1989. The group wanted to destabilize thecountry by targeting leading public figures.
In a frightening but apparently unrelated sequel,Bakoyannis was the target of a gunman a few days beforebeing sworn in as Athens’ first female mayor lastDecember. A man later found to be psychologicallyunstable, with no known political agenda, fired theshot. It missed because she had bent for her purse onthe seat of the car in which she was riding.
Greece is facing one of the biggest challenges inits history,'' Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis said at a newsconference last month. In the face of these demands,our security budget far surpasses previous OlympicGames.’’
Greece is considered an easy venue for terroristsbecause of its permeable borders with Bulgaria, Albaniaand Turkey and its proximity to the Middle East. Thosewho erroneously think anti-U.S. government sentimentamong Greeks reflects general hostility toward U.S.citizens are even more preoccupied with the idea thatU.S. athletes could be targeted.
A Palestinian group, Black September, used the 1972Olympics in Munich to make a horrifying politicalstatement of its cause by taking Israeli athletes andcoaches hostage. Eleven Israelis died, either at thehands of the Palestinians or in the botched rescueattempt by West German security forces.
Do you know anyone around this globe who doesn'tbelieve security is a very scary matter?'' said GiannaAngelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of the Athens OlympicOrganizing Committee. We have the same opinion. Wesay, ‘Security, security, security’-not just after 9/11 but from when we stepped in.
I believe we have the right strategy, the rightpeople and the right budget. This period (ofcoordination issues) is over. We are in a new era nowabout cooperation.'' Greece has brought in anti-terrorism experts fromAustralia, Israel, the United States, Britain, Germany,France and Spain. The security budget, separate from theorganizing committee's $1.962 billion operating budget,recently was increased by 25 percent. Yet peoplefamiliar with the situation who spoke on condition ofanonymity said coordination issues remain. During the recent visit, Frazier noted ruefully the100-member U.S. security force that will accompany theOlympic team apparently will not be allowed to carryweapons. There is still serious discussion about the role ofthe U.S. security,’’ Frazier said after returning to hisjob as athletic director at the University of Hawaii.
Obviously, they will be in Greece and be a part of theoverall strategy. The final assignments and jurisdictionwill be handled by the State Department and FBI inconjunction with the Greek authority.'' The inspection visit left Frazier with one other mainworry: moving athletes around the city. Greek officials insist all three major transportationprojects will be completed in time for the Games. One isa tram linking the city center to the southern suburbs,including the five Olympic venues at the old Athensairport. Another is a light-rail line from the newairport to the northern ring road, where it is to meet ametro line in the process of being extended. While we continue to be satisfied that a great dealof work is taking place, time lines for a number of keyprojects remain critical,’’ said Denis Oswald, head ofthe International Olympic Committee coordinationcommission.
The light-rail line and the partial roof over the mainOlympic stadium are considered most problematic.
It is one thing to say, 'Even at the last minute,'but it is another to say, 'All at the last minute,'Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.
Like Barcelona in 1992, the impetus from being anOlympic host city has led Athens to attempt a near-totaltransformation in a short period.
For me, Barcelona is a model, and I have openlystated this,'' Bakoyannis said. I just wish we had started as soonas Barcelona.
You are living in anxiety. Everyone knows theproject is very big, and the city must succeed. Greecemust succeed.'' (EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE) The result of turning the city into a giantconstruction site has led to traffic chaos. ManyAthenians plan to avoid during the Games by watching theOlympics on television in vacation spots far from thescene. One of my obligations is to persuade Athenians theyshould not miss the Olympic Games in Athens,’‘Bakoyannis said.
Another is to persuade Athenians to obey stentoriantraffic control measures during the Games. That will bequite a trick in a city where flouting traffic rules isan apparent birthright.
Despite the creation of a splendid pedestrian zonebetween the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the entrance tothe Acropolis, the city remains unappealing for walkers.
Defying ugly metal barriers, cars park all oversidewalks, their fenders within inches of the adjoiningbuildings, forcing pedestrians into the streets.Motorcycle and motor scooters drive on the sidewalks,and they give pedestrians no quarter.
Bakoyannis spent her childhood in an apartment acrossthe street from the 1896 Olympic stadium, where bothmarathons will finish and the archery events will takeplace next August. The impact of that vantage point doesnot affect her perspective that the Olympics are a meansto the end of hastening the redevelopment of Athens andGreece, whose ancient history seems a vaingloriousmemory after a long descent toward Third World stature.
I am not paying any money just for the Olympics,''she said. In the first decade after Greece was admitted to theEuropean Union in 1979, the country was trying to movepsychologically and developmentally westward from itsposition well east of the rest of the EU. As moreEastern European countries become members, Greecesuddenly finds itself near the nexus of the EU'sexpansion and an example for other Balkan states. At the end of the day, we want this country tore-establish the brand it had, abroad and toourselves,’’ said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a formermember of parliament seen as a potential Greekpresident.
That is why I accepted this job and why Ihaven't resigned, even if I had many good reasonssometimes to say, 'I quit.' After you organize theOlympics, you have no fear in life.'' Angelopoulos-Daskalaki led the Greek bid team that wonthe election to be the 2004 host city. She stepped asidefor three years until being nearly begged to returnafter the organizing committee's inaction led the IOC tothreaten withdrawal of the Games. She came back to an organization brought to astandstill by constant infighting, much of it amongvarious government ministries. In the beginning, when I talked of the need for testevents to the interministerial committee, they asked,‘What for?’ ‘’ she said.
The general success of the 2003 test events has helpedbuild badly needed confidence that the competitive partof the Olympics should go well. Organizers areportraying the one disaster, caused by high winds at therowing venue during the world junior championships inAugust, as an example of how quickly and well theyreacted to the problems and how important it is to spotpotential problems in test events.
Such tests also are being planned on public works.Angelopoulos-Daskalaki wants to know if Athens canhandle unprecedented demands for electricity and managecrowds of up to 188,000 at the Olympic complex on the peak days,especially since so much pressure will be put on thecentury-old metro line, which serves the complex andlacks air conditioning.
The improvised solutions of moving rowing starts to 6a.m. and cutting race distances in half may have beenacceptable for the world junior meet but likely wouldcause outrage at the Olympics. The internationalattention such a snafu and other problems would getcould turn the Olympics into a blow rather than a boostfor Greece’s prestige.
It will be a very big setback,'' Bakoyannis said.I hope we won’t have to deal with it.’’
Such anxiety explains Bakoyannis’ choice of the dayshe is most looking forward to next year, when theOlympics (Aug. 13-29) will be followed by theParalympics (Sept. 17-28).
To be very honest,'' she said with a laugh, it isSept. 29.’’
By Philip Hersh