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Sayonara, Tokyo. Hello, Paris.
Despite the decline in enthusiasm around the world for hosting the Olympics, French organizers are optimistic that Paris 2024 will be a major success.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke the Olympic motto on Sunday from the top of the Eiffel Tower then declared “We are ready!” as mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo accepted the Olympic flag in Japan during an official handover in Tokyo.
French officials are convinced that the 2024 Games will have Olympic opponents to eat their words. This is thanks to the abundance of existing first-class venues in the city, coupled with the organizers’ request for a relatively modest estimated budget of 7.3 billion euros. Of this amount, only 1 billion euros should come from taxpayers, the rest of private financing and ticket sales.
“We are ready to take over and we want to take the Games to the next level,” Etienne Thobois, CEO of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, told POLITICO in a video interview from Tokyo. Sustainability and connecting with the public are key goals as Paris wants to set a new standard for mega-events, added Thobois, a former Olympic badminton player.
Lawmaker Régis Juanico, co-chair of the Olympic task force at the French National Assembly, said a “significant” majority of French people supported the organization of the 2024 event.
According to a survey conducted in December, 84% of respondents in France were in favor of the Paris Games. And French television audience figures for the first week of Tokyo 2020 were up 10 percent on the Rio 2016 Games, despite the annoying jet lag. It’s in stark contrast with a drop in the number of wheelchair Olympians in the United States and many other countries.
However, some wonder if Parisians really know what they are getting into.
“Except in extraordinary circumstances, the cost-benefit calculation is not favorable for host cities,” said Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of books on the economic risks of the Olympics.
Anti-democratic money splash
Regarding the hosting of the Games, the critics point towards the amount of public money spent, the displacement of residents, the militarization of public spaces and greenwashing – a term used to describe environmental claims seen as misleading.
The Tokyo event, for example, Cost between $ 22 billion and $ 28 billion – eclipsing an initial projection of $ 7.3 billion, a worrying figure in line with Paris’ current budget estimate. Japanese overspending follows a model of host cities are going over budget to host the Olympics, while leaving white elephant stadiums – especially in Athens and Rio de Janeiro – in their wake.
Around the world, zeal for hosting the Games has collapsed. While once the world’s cities competed fiercely, last month Brisbane was the only candidate to win the 2032 Summer Games. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee broke with tradition by awarding Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 at the same time, with the aim of fending off the growing enthusiasm of potential host cities.
Despite the general approval of the French public for the Olympics, there is some dissatisfaction.
Frédéric Viale, member of the militant group “No to the Olympic Games of 2024”, affirms that the treatment of the candidacy of Paris was undemocratic. He rejects the government’s budget estimate and warns the city will be slapped with a “huge” check.
Public ballots or the threat thereof have helped block recent Olympic candidacies by Boston, Budapest and Calgary. Viale said that unlike these popular revolts, he felt that French policymakers and the IOC forced the decision on Paris.
“The organizers fear the result and that is why they never wanted a referendum,” he said. “Whenever people have been consulted, the answer has been no. “
The IOC’s decision to move forward with the Tokyo Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic has also sparked consternation – including in France, a suggested survey. Holding the Games as COVID-19 continues to ravage the world was a “patently selfish” action by the IOC, said Jules Boykoff, an American historian and writer on Olympic politics.
Cheaper and more ecological
French officials, however, are adamant: the 2024 Games will be different: cheaper, greener and a chance to resuscitate passion for the Olympics.
“We want sober, participatory and sustainable Games,” said an official from the Ministry of Sports. “The fact that 90% of the infrastructure has already been built is a major advantage in this regard. ”
Several Olympic sports will take place in existing places around Paris, reducing the overall cost of the Games. The opening ceremony and athletics will take place at the Stade de France. Boxing and tennis will be played at Roland-Garros, seat of the Roland-Garros tournament since 1928. The gymnasts will tumble through the air at the Bercy Arena.
And in an eye-catching gesture, the surf competition will take place on the famous waves of Teahupo’o in Tahiti, French Polynesia.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are “an opportunity to show the world what France has to offer,” said Thobois, CEO of 2024.
The head of the sports ministry promised that the government would be “vigilant” in overseeing the budget. And the lawmaker Juanico underlined Paris 2024 green focus, with plans for energy efficient public transport, reduced emissions and a cleaning the Seine which will allow athletes to swim in it.
“We believe in the power of sport, in what sport can do in people’s lives,” added Thobois, highlighting its potential for positive impacts on mental health, sustainability and LGBTQ + rights.
Olympic skeptics have heard it all before. They remain unconvinced of French confidence.
“If the future Olympic cities are unable to see with ever sharper clarity than the Olympic officials in Lausanne” – the Swiss city where the IOC headquarters are located – “look after the IOC and not the host city, then I imagine that nothing will be able to push them out of their imaginary five-ring country, ”said Boykoff, the Olympic historian.
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