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I find it hard not to gloat when I read about the Olympics and its construction problems. A couple of years ago, I had the misfortune to fly home from Athens on the day its new airport opened. Overnight, the authorities tried to switch operations from old airport to new, with predictably farcical results.

On my return to the UK, I wrote a scathing piece about the venue and its inability to function. The phones didn’t work. The gate displays showed the gates at the old airport, miles away to the south. The tills wouldn’t accept cash.

The article triggered a volley of abusive letters from Greek readers. How dare I criticise their magnificent airport? The airport was not at fault: I was. It was a disgrace to publish such an article.

As mentioned in a previous column, I experienced a similar Greek bombardment after unwittingly recognising Turkish Cyprus as a republic.

The Greeks undoubtedly have some talents. But can you name a single Greek businessman other than Stelios whatsisname? No, I didn’t think so.

Greeks are very good at running shipping lines and have yielded a few billionaires over the years. But construction does not appear to be their strong point.

I can’t help but think of Hong Kong in the run-up to the handover of power from Britain to China in 1997. The programme of works included Chep Lap Kok airport, a suspension bridge, a rail link, and a convention centre.

It was close, but they finished the job. Somehow, I don’t think the concept of ‘face’ means as much to your average Athenian brickie.

If the Greeks put as much effort into hitting deadlines as they do writing letters, the Olympic venues would have been finished months ago.

  • Jon Ashworth, business features editor at The Times.

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