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Greece facing massive debt for olympics { June 16 2004 }

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Greece facing decade of debt as Olympics bill soars

Helena Smith in Athens
Wednesday June 16, 2004
The Guardian

It could take Greece over a decade to pay back a 36bn (24bn) deficit created in part by the ballooning costs of hosting the Olympic games in August, a top government official said yesterday. Mounting disillusionment over the economic repercussions of hosting the the games deepened after the Greek government said borrowing requirements had overshot budget targets by at least 6bn this year.

Although officials avoided saying how much of the over runs were Olympics-related, the August 13-29 games were originally forecast to cost around 4bn but the outlay is likely to be closer to 6bn, if not more.

"For the games to be a profitable venture for us, it will take between nine and 11 years to pay back," the deputy finance minister, Petros Doukas, told the Guardian.

Athens would not be the first city to find hosting the games a loss-making enterprise. The 1976 Montreal games virtually bankrupted the city. But more recently Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and Seoul all netted big profits through the games.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, criticised Greece's "overly ambitious and lavish" preparations. In a recent interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Mr Rogge cited the exorbitant cost of the 189m elaborate glass and steel roof that had been fitted over the main Olympic stadium in Athens.

In future, the IOC would doubtless favour cities that "already have a maximum of infrastructure in place and a minimum of virtual plans", Mr Bogge was quoted as saying.

Greece has had the added burden of mounting the most expensive security operation for the games, the first summer Olympics since the September 11 attacks. Around 995m has so far been spent on safeguarding the event.

Unexpectedly sluggish ticket sales have also exacerbated concerns that Greece is unlikely to recoup the costs of the games.

Fani Palli-Petralia, deputy culture minister, said she believed the Olympic budget had "got out of control".

Yesterday, the European commission announced it was about to issue budget recommendations on how to curb Greece's deficit.

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