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Athens has Rogge concerned

ATHENS -- When an IOC president visits a host city before the Olympics, he usually heaps praise on the organizers and predicts a fantastic Games. Jacques Rogge delivered a pointedly different message yesterday.

Just 5 1/2 months before the Opening Ceremonies, Rogge talked about his expectations with a caveat: "If the Athens Games run smoothly and, I repeat, if they go smoothly."

And, in a new tone of uncertainty, the head of the Greek organizing committee expressed worry over that some key projects will be completed in time for the Aug. 13-29 Games.

"We are concerned because several challenges are in front of us," Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said. "But we haven't come this far to let challenges like these stop us now."

Also yesterday, the IOC reinstated Iraq's Olympic committee, clearing the way for up to two dozen Iraqi athletes to compete under their national flag in Athens.

Rogge's guarded assessment of Athens's preparations came in a speech at a meeting of the IOC executive board and the Association of National Olympic Committees.

His remarks contrasted sharply with his more recent upbeat comments and appeared aimed at instilling a sense of greater urgency with the Greek organizers.

"There's still a lot to do -- we have only 5 1/2 months," Rogge said. "Our experts say if the pace and the rhythm of the work continues, there is enough time to finish in due time."

The IOC regularly keeps up pressure on host cities, but it's extremely rare for an IOC president to raise doubts about the success of an Olympics so close to the opening.

The comments by Rogge and the Athens organizing chief also appeared directed at government and political officials before national elections set for March 7. The governing socialist PASOK party is being challenged by the conservative New Democracy party. A change in leadership so close to the Games could hold up preparations.

The IOC issued a strong warning to Athens organizers in 2000 after three years of delays. The government since increased its involvement and Angelopoulos-Daskalaki took over the organizing committee.

But key projects remain unfinished, including a showpiece steel-and-glass roof over the main Olympic stadium designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Deadlines are also tight for a roof over the swimming venue, tram and light-rail lines, and improvements to the marathon course.

"It will take a great effort to get these things done," Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.

Security is another major issue. The Athens Olympics are the first Summer Games since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Greece has budgeted more that $800 million for security, more than three times what was spent to make the 2000 Sydney Games safe.

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