'You will see - in a few months everything will be okay' The Athens Olympics is a test the new Greek government is sure to pass with flying colours, says Greece's consul-general in Hong Kong. Panayotis Economou, who arrived here last November for a four-year term, is sanguine about Athens' preparations, the risk of terror attacks and strains on the Greek capital's budget. 'You will see - in a few months everything will be okay,' he said, adding that the press had taken a negative attitude to Athens' preparations, 'maybe because of the Cyprus question', referring to the Greek Cypriot rejection on April 24 of the UN reunification plan for the island. Economou said that not only would the Games bring in significant amounts of tourists and improve the city's infrastructure; the event would put Greece back on the map and revive the spirit of equal competition. 'Greece will prove that even small countries can hold the Games successfully - they just need the will to succeed,' he said, adding that the Olympics must not only be dominated by large countries. Economou says the Olympics will be a test of the new government's competence. Many have likened Athens' sluggish preparations to a Sirtaki dance, which starts slowly and gradually speeds up to a frenzied climax. Though Economou agrees with the comparison, he played down concerns over whether the projects would be completed in time for the start of events on August 13. Construction delays have led to several projects being cancelled and contractors have been working overtime to meet deadlines. Although Greece's Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has so far declined to give an estimate of the final cost - originally put at 4.6 billion euros (HK$43 billion) - some government ministers estimate the cost of some projects may have inflated by as much as 50 per cent beyond their original budgets. Another concern is terrorism, made all the more acute after three bombs exploded outside a police station in the Athens district of Kallithea exactly 100 days before the start of the Games. And for the first time, the International Olympic Committee has taken out a new insurance scheme, which covers natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding and landslides - and terrorism. While Economou confirms the government has even had to cut back on its traditionally high defence spending to free up funds for the Games, he said terrorism was not likely. 'The attack was not related to the Olympics - it was the action of [Greek] terrorist groups such as November 17, whose members are being judged in court at the moment. I don't see any further attacks happening before the Games,' he said. Economou is adamant the security measures already in place will be enough to make terrorism a non-issue. He lists several factors: an extra US$800 million put aside for security; Nato's agreement to provide air-and-sea surveillance against chemical and biological attacks and a seven-country Olympics advisory group which meets every month in the Greek capital to provide advice about security measures. The security budget is an estimated four times the amount spent on the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Instead, he said the main point of this year's Olympics was to get back to the original spirit of the event and away from the commercialism which has dogged the Games since the second world war. 'We have the ambition to organise a more genuine Games which will be less commercialised than they have been since the second world war,' he said. 'It's an answer to the way the modern world tries to live today - apart from economic power and military power, there is the spirit of competition,' he said. He said the spirit of competition was the ultimate arbitrator between nations, referring to ancient times when the Olympics was a time when warring states were honour-bound to call a truce while they took part in sports. 'The Games are the civilised dimension of competition - we have big powers and small powers, rich people and poor people, but in the Games we have athletes who, based only on their abilities and their training, are on an equal footing,' he said. Although Economou admits ruefully he will not be able to attend the Games and has yet to resume his tennis habit, he clearly takes the spirit of the Games to heart - as, he adds, do all Greek people. 'We learn ancient Greek history at school and everybody knows the meaning of fair competition,' he said, adding that many of Hong Kong's Greek community - which numbers around 200 families - will be flying home for the Games. 'The Olympics are a product of civilisation and equal competition. Like in a democracy, everybody is equal, everybody has the same right to vote and the same way of voting and all live together in the same system. This is the Olympic ideal,' he added. Cynical observers may say this sporting microcosm of democracy will only take place thanks to the military protection of larger powers and that Olympian values of fair play mean nothing to those who choose to communicate through bombs. Nevertheless, all Sirtaki dances, no matter how unpredictable their speed, still require the dancers to enjoy themselves, soak up the atmosphere and kick up their heels.