CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — THE 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, may be more than three years away, but for Josep Vila the deadlines are now. As director general of the '92 Games, Mr. Vila is juggling 315 separate projects that must be completed before the Games open in July of 1992. In fact, the Olympic organizing committee (known by its Spanish acronym COOB'92) hired the United States management company Price, Waterhouse to develop a system to track the progress of each project, from sports facilities and housing to communication and transportation.
Today, many of the largest decisions involving the Games have already been made; others, such as whether to complete a ``ring road'' around the outskirts of the city to avoid traffic snarls, must be made quickly if they are to be ready in 38 months.
How's it going? ``All is in control,'' Vila assures an inquirer during a recent visit here to speak at Harvard University. The new stadium will be inaugurated on July 25, and will be the site of the World Cup track and field championships in September. The rest of the sports facilities are scheduled for completion in 1990. A new airport should be ready early in '91.
The youthful, bespectacled Vila, dressed conservatively in a business suit with a shock of dark hair falling onto his forehead, says an agreement has been reached with Barcelona hotel owners to provide 80 percent of their rooms for use by the official ``Olympic family'' (officials, news media, special guests) during the Games. The same 80 percent arrangement will apply to hotel rooms yet to be built. Athletes will live in the yet-to-be-built Olympic Village.
Housing, along with transportation, is a key concern for the Olympic planners. Olympic officials in Barcelona last month said that the estimated 300,000 tourists may have to stay in accommodations an hour or more outside the city because rooms in the city will be reserved for participants. Housing plans have been complicated by a 32 percent rise in construction costs over the last two years.
The soft-spoken Vila says his biggest challenge will be to hire the people to run the Games. ``We now have 160 people [in COOB'92]; by 1992 we will have 700 people. Another 30,000 will be volunteers.'' Already, he says, some 100,000 Spaniards have applied for volunteer jobs. Salaries will come out of COOB'92's budget of some $1.1 billion: Thirty-five percent of the money will come from TV rights; 35 percent from corporate sponsors; and the rest from a lottery, commemorative coins and stamps, and tickets.
Vila, who took up his post as director general last November, previously served as COOB'92's deputy director for technology. He joined the Olympic committee in 1987 after serving as a computer scientist with Unisys Corporation.
What the Barcelona visitors will find in 1992, he says, is a typical coastal Mediterranean city. ``The people will be out in the streets, enjoying the show and the sun.''
Nineteen ninety-two will be a crucial time. The trade barriers between Spain and its fellow members of the European Community will be taken down. And Spain will be host to a World's Fair in Seville that year, along with nationwide celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America.
American observers familiar with Spain and public-policy issues say the Games hold large potential risks and benefits for the province of Catalan (which includes Barcelona) and all of Spain. ``I'd be pleasantly surprised if they pulled everything off,'' says Michael Barzelay, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard and a consultant to the Spanish government. The Games, he says, are ``going to be very important to Spain's feeling that it has arrived in the world scene.''
Previous Games have often been a catalyst for changing the world's image of countries. Japan (1964) emerged as no longer a ``warmonger'' but a modern democracy, and Mexico shed some of its image as a ``backward republic,'' says Candy Young, a professor of political science at Northeast Missouri State University. But Ms. Young, who has studied the effects of past Olympics on their host countries, adds that ``in Munich , it backfired.'' Those Games are remembered chiefly for a terrorist incident; shortly afterward the West German economy went into a tailspin.
The risks have not deterred Spain, which had bid for the Games four previous times beginning in 1924. Now the countdown has finally begun. The year 1992 ``is a very important year for us,'' Vila concedes, ``it's a challenge - and an opportunity.''