LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In an extraordinary public scolding that raised the possibility of Athens losing the 2004 Summer Olympics, senior International Olympic Committee officials declared Thursday that Greece faces monumental problems and needs to make "drastic changes" to get ready for the Games.
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, calling the situation the worst organizational debacle he'd seen in 20 years atop the Olympic movement, warned that the Athens Games would be in danger unless local organizers and the Greek government act decisively. He said he expects results by year's end.
Other Olympic officials ticked off concerns over accommodations, traffic, security, communications, construction, venues and infrastructure--and, most problematic, elemental decision-making. Greek officials, caught off guard by the broadside, said the IOC's complaints were exaggerated.
Samaranch discounted the possibility of moving the Games elsewhere. But he did not rule it out, even though the prospect entails daunting logistical, financial and political pressures. Another blunt reality is that only a few cities have the facilities and officials with the management experience needed to organize the Games in four years. Among them: Los Angeles.
Many of the venues from the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics are still in place. And a Los Angeles bid for the 2012 Games has been in the works for months--organized by some of the key players from the 1984 Games, which were a rousing success.
David Simon, president of Los Angeles' 2012 bid campaign, reacted to Thursday's developments at IOC headquarters in Lausanne by saying, "No. 1, we wish Athens the best and, in fact, if we can offer any help to them we'd like to do it, based on our Olympic experience in Los Angeles."
He also said, "We're not seeking the 2004 Games," adding, "The only way we could consider looking at the question is if the IOC were to ask," and if organizers consulted the U.S. Olympic Committee and Los Angeles city officials, "which we have not done."
"Having said all that," Simon concluded, "in the preliminary work we've done for . . . 2012, we think that out of the 28 sports currently in the Olympic program, we could accommodate . . . all but one or two of those sports in facilities that currently exist or are planned to be built."
Another city that could step in on short notice is Seoul, the South Korean capital that staged the 1988 Summer Olympics.
"We are always ready," Kim Un Yong, South Korea's member of the IOC's ruling Executive Board, said Thursday.
The Olympics have been canceled because of war, and Denver turned back the 1976 Winter Games, which were moved to Innsbruck, Austria. But the IOC has never stripped a city of the Games.
Greece is the birthplace of the ancient Olympics and Athens staged the first modern Games, in 1896. Athens was awarded the 2004 Games in September 1997.
Since then, many of the plans the Greeks promised during the bid have been revised or simply dropped, and the organizing committee has been mired in governmental bureaucracy.
Passed around at meetings this week in Lausanne was a book featuring a variety of photos of proposed Olympic sites in and around Athens, including one aerial shot of a would-be village for 16,000 athletes.
It's still farmland.
"You have to trust us," Greece's IOC member, Lambis W. Nikolaou, said Thursday.
Behind the scenes, however, a quiet campaign has been building for months among key Olympic insiders to get the Greeks to shape up--or else.
In a closed-door meeting in February in Sydney, Australia, Samaranch said, the IOC's ruling Executive Board formally warned Athens organizers. He said he waited to go public until after this month's Greek elections.
Samaranch said he explained to the Greeks what organizing the Olympics is like: There's green, where things are going smoothly. Yellow, where there are "many problems." And red, where the "Games are in danger."
"I told them, 'We are at the end of the yellow phase,' " Samaranch said. "If from now until the end of the year there are no drastic changes, we will enter the red phase."
He called for Greece to appoint a government cabinet minister to take charge of the organizing committee, complimenting the Australians for taking that approach to prepare for the Sydney Games in September.
Samaranch also said an IOC delegation would meet with Greek government officials in the next few days to press the point.
At a news conference Thursday, Samaranch would not say what the IOC would do if Athens failed to deliver by year's end. He played down the possibility of moving the Games.
"I cannot imagine the Games will not be held in Athens," he said. "We hope, after this warning, all the things will be in the right way."
Jacques Rogge, the Belgian IOC delegate who serves as liaison between Lausanne and Athens, said there is no contingency plan for moving the Games.
"What is needed is a bit more sense of urgency and to understand the scope of the Games" he said, adding, "The whole structure must be revamped. The dynamism we had in the bid is still to be found. But we'll find it."
Dick Pound, IOC vice president, said the Greeks are "running out of time."
Asked if moving the Games were technically feasible, Pound answered, "It would have to be a major crisis. Yeah, we can do that. But you're better off dancing with the girl you brought than changing midstream. . . . It can be done, but we sure don't like to do it. It's not good for us, it's not good for Greece and it's not good for the Games."