At the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Video games, televisions predict the long run. On one display screen, Olympic athletes are travelling alongside the Seine in an enormous flotilla, cheered on by near half one million individuals in a mocked-up model of what organisers promise would be the most spectacular opening ceremony in history. On one other, breakdancers are spinning at dizzying speeds on the Place de la Concorde. A 3rd video mashes motion with whooping crowds, tricolour flags, and extra of Paris’s best landmarks.
The message is stirring and direct: in any case the issues that blighted the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, from spiralling prices to corruption and Covid, the Paris Video games – which begin a yr on Wednesday – will probably be a wonderful reboot. Even when the specter of strikes, civil disobedience and terrorism nonetheless linger uneasily over the French capital.
“We’re formidable with these Video games and there’s numerous expectations,” says Étienne Thobois, chief govt of the Paris 2024 organising committee. “Paris is a implausible metropolis and a implausible place to host the Video games. The previous couple of editions, for varied causes beginning with Covid, have truly triggered a brand new hope. So we would like an enormous occasion. And we would like that occasion to be extraordinary.”
Nevertheless it received’t, organisers insist, value the earth. In a big shift in emphasis, 95% of the venues in Paris will probably be current or momentary, with solely the athletes’ village and aquatics centre being constructed from scratch. Which means the Video games’ deliberate funds of €8bn (£6.9bn) is significantly lower than that of London, Rio or Tokyo.
The reboot has different recent twists, too. That a lot is clear from an official Paris 2024 video, which ends by including to the Olympic motto – “Plus vite, plus haut, plus fort – ensemble” (Quicker, increased, stronger – collectively) – with new ambitions. They embody aspiration to be “Extra brotherly … extra daring … extra wild … extra city … extra impressed … extra righteous”.
Such positioning will make some cringe. The Olympics? Extra righteous? Actually? However Paris 2024’s official slogan, “Ouvrons grand les jeux” (Video games Large Open), additionally displays the need to ship an occasion that’s extra inclusive, accountable and spectacular – and finds new methods to get individuals engaged earlier than, throughout and after the Olympics.
“Individuals don’t simply wish to be spectators,” Thobois says. “Additionally they wish to participate. I feel that’s an evolution globally. So we determined that engagement was a key ingredient each with the Video games, but in addition with its legacy. We’ve been formidable in the best way we wish to have fun the Video games but in addition in the best way that we wish to make a greater world via sport, via the Video games.”
Thobois insists these heat phrases are being backed up with motion. Round 300,000 individuals will get free tickets to look at the opening ceremony because it strikes three‑and‑a‑half miles alongside the Seine, accompanied by a stunning inventive and music present. There may be additionally Le Membership Paris 2024, which affords factors and doubtlessly Olympic tickets to those that train recurrently. A fortunate group of 20,024 individuals will even get the prospect to run the Olympic marathon on the identical course – and on the identical day – because the world’s greatest over 26.2 miles.
The route, which begins at Hôtel de Ville and goes to the Palace of Versailles and again, retraces a part of the ladies’s march, one of many earliest and most vital occasions of the French Revolution in 1789. And notably, it is going to be the ladies’s race – not the boys’s, as is conventional – that can deliver these Video games to a detailed.
It’s an occasion that guarantees to be spectacular and historic but in addition brutal. As Jon Ridgeon, the World Athletics chief govt, additionally factors out that the succession of hills on the course makes it “the hardest marathon in Olympic historical past”.
That race will definitely ask questions of the athletes. Earlier than then, although, questions are being requested of the organisers after French police raided the Paris 2024 headquarters final month. It was a part of two preliminary corruption investigations, trying into allegations of favouritism and misuse of public cash within the attribution of building contracts courting again to 2017 and 2022. Thobois’s residence was also searched however he has denied any wrongdoing.
“We’re most likely probably the most watched and managed organisation in France proper now with the varied entities,” he says. “There are inside committees, an audit committee, a remuneration committee and an ethics committee. All of the safeguards and watchdogs are in place to ensure these Video games run easily and are moral.”
Nevertheless the police investigation shouldn’t be the one fear for organisers. In Might, France’s Nationwide Olympic Committee president, Brigitte Henriques, resigned amid reviews of intense infighting. In the meantime the current unrest throughout France has additionally led to considerations of hassle or strikes in the course of the Video games. However Thobois is optimistic on that entrance.
“We now have a really vibrant democracy,” he says. “However the Olympics is particular. We even have a really shut relationship with the unions, they sit on our board and the dialogue is constructive.
“Clearly they’re cautious, just like the environmental organisations. They’re actually what we’re doing and reminding us of our accountability recurrently and rightly so. However the dialogue is there and it’s constructive.”
The threat of terrorism means that an average of around 30,000 police officers a day will be mobilised during the Olympics, and Thobois insists that organisers are doing everything they can to ensure a safe Games.
Despite the hiccups, a recent poll found that support for the Olympics was nearly 70% among the French public, while organisers believe the 300,000 applications they received for 45,000 volunteer places is another measure of the Games having wider support.
Thobois is also keen to stress the legacy of Paris 2024, which will include 6,000 new houses in Saint Denis, one of the poorer parts of the city, when the athletes’ village is transformed into a new neighbourhood in 2025.
There will, he promises, be an environmental legacy too with the once heavily polluted Seine being safe to swim in for athletes. “Unless there is a huge flow of water falling for two days we are very confident. I will swim in the river, definitely. You know what? The day after the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, we’ll have a huge party in the water.”
Organisers also claim there will be “intangible” legacies too from the Games, whether from working with schools to have 60 minutes of physical activity a day to tackle obesity, creating running and cycling courses within cities, or introducing disability measures into their procurement strategy.
Time will tell. However, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, believes Paris is on course to be a huge success. “After the necessary austerity of the Tokyo Games, there is high anticipation of a return to a full global celebration of the Games and the athletes in Paris,” says the man who knows a thing or two about such matters, having been in charge of London 2012.
Coe also believes that a lightning quick track at the Stade de France, along with the global stars and spectacular performances, will ensure track and field retains its pre‑eminence as the primary Olympic sport. “We look forward to welcoming hundreds of thousands of spectators to our road events on the streets of Paris and to Stade de France. We’re looking forward to writing a spectacular new chapter of our history within this magnificent stadium.”
For now, Thobois insists nothing is retaining him awake at night time. “I don’t sleep so much, however I sleep very properly,” he tells the Guardian. “There are issues daily, however there’s a capability to unravel them day after day too and that brings us confidence.”
He pauses and smiles. “A challenge of that magnitude is sophisticated and difficult. However we’re acutely aware that this factor is a bit particular. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime expertise as a person, and as soon as in a century as a rustic. And so we’re very excited. Very excited certainly.”