<< Front page Sports May 14, 2004

Security issues in Athens threaten Olympics

With the upcoming Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, there is much worry and speculation that a terrorist attack could rock the city during the festivities. This concern has precedent, as many past games have become political terror targets, even prior to the recent surge in world terrorism. Despite pessimism in the air, Greek government officials seem confident that the situation is under control and that all the bases of security have been covered.

Greek Minister of Public Order George Voulgarakis recently made assurances that the city would be adequately prepared for the games.

“Our plans are very well prepared, we have taken into account all the scenarios that the mind can think of,” Voulgarakis told local media.

Ironically, this statement came just days after a three-bomb blast outside a police station in Athens. Voulgarakis, however, maintains that the bombings were the work of local extremists that are unconnected to larger terrorist cells and that the bombings were unconnected to the Olympics.

On paper, Athens should be safer than a McDonald’s playplace. Greece is spending more than $1.2 billion on overall security. However, money does not always equal safety and the turbulent geopolitical environment is making some officials nervous. The International Olympic Committee has taken out a $170 million insurance policy against terrorism, war or an earthquake during the games.

At a recent conference, Voulgarakis met with U.S. Secretary, of Homeland Security Department Tom Ridge and other notable security experts. At the conference, Voulgarakis detailed some of Greece’s preparations, explaining that over 70,000 security personnel will be on hand for the Olympics.

NATO has agreed to provide air and sea patrol plus intelligence information for the games. Greece has also signed 37 protocols with 22 countries to insure that any intelligence gathered during the games, no matter who gathers it, will be processed and coordinated so that it can be acted upon.

Many countries with athletes participating in the games are also taking measures to ensure the safety of their competitors. Members of the Japanese Olympic Committee recently announced that they were preparing an emergency manual for their Olympians traveling to Athens.

At this point, it looks like the biggest worry for Olympic officials and organizers may not be a terrorist attack but rather the slow and faltering progress on the physical structures being constructed for the games. The chief overseer for the International Olympic Committee recently said that the highest thing on his list of worries was the unfinished stadium roof.

In the meantime, the public, athletes and officials alike will have to keep their fingers crossed in hope that the spectacles at this summer’s games will be made from record-breaking times and powerful jumps, not suicide bombers and bloody corpses.


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