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IOC inspector faced Herculean task in Athens

Switzerland’s Denis Oswald, the International Olympic Committee’s coordinator for the Athens Games, has keeping an eye on preparations for the summer Olympics.

This content was published on June 28, 2004 - 08:11

After his 12th and final inspection in May, Oswald told swissinfo he was confident the Games could go ahead as planned.

The IOC member added that after many delays, all the preparations should be completed on time, congratulating the president of the Games organising committee, Dianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.

swissinfo: Have the Greeks really made up for lost time and managed to build everything in just four years instead the seven usually needed?

Denis Oswald: You can say that. Almost nothing was done during the first three years after Athens was chosen to host the Games.

It was an enormous problem, especially since there was so much to be done. Athens is a city whose development is not comparable to other cities that have hosted the Games in the past, such as Atlanta.

In Greece, everything had to be built or rebuilt: new major roads, a metro, modern telecommunications systems and even the electrical grid.

swissinfo: Does the fact that the Games are taking place in Greece make them special for the IOC?

D.O.: All the Olympic Games have their own characteristics. But staging the Games in Greece means returning to their historical roots, and reminds us of their origin. I’m sure the Greeks will highlight this during the opening and closing ceremonies.

There will also be an athletics competition in the old stadium at Olympia, which will certainly be a little bit magic.

swissinfo: You have been heading the IOC’s coordination commission for the Games since 2001. How big a job was it for you?

D.O.: It was a big challenge, and probably the hardest task I’ve had to undertake for the IOC, especially given the circumstances - the Greek political and historical context and the delays at the start.

The fact I succeeded the person who became the president of the IOC made it even tougher, but also more interesting.

I have learnt a lot from this, on the technical level with the commission’s experts, on the political level and on the human side as well.

swissinfo: As you said, you took over from Jacques Rogge, who succeeded Juan Antonio Samaranch as head of the IOC. Did you hesitate before accepting his proposal?

D.O.: Yes and no. I was already a member of the commission so I knew what had to be done. I was tempted by the job, but I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time for the job at hand.

I asked for two days to think it over before giving my answer. In the end, I only needed two or three minutes. And even if I had taken two days, I still would have said yes.

swissinfo: You are among the many Swiss who count in international sport. What makes the Swiss are so successful in reaching key positions?

D.O.: There are historical reasons because Pierre de Coubertin [the founder of the modern Games] brought the IOC to Switzerland in 1915, because it was neutral country.

Traditionally, the Swiss have regularly held key positions in international organisations, including sporting ones.

The Swiss also speak a number of different languages and are used to working with different cultures and ways of thinking within one country. They can apply that knowledge at an international level.

swissinfo-interview: Philippe Kropf and Mathias Froidevaux in Neuchâtel

In brief

Denis Oswald, born in 1947 in Neuchâtel, was a member of the Swiss rowing team from 1968 to 1976, and was national champion 13 times.

He took part in three Olympic Games: Mexico (1968), Munich (1972) and Montreal (1976).

He finished fourth in 1974 world rowing championships.

He has been a member of the IOC since 1991, and coordinator for the Athens Games since 2001.

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