French President Emmanuel Macron met with senior ministers on Monday to allay concerns that preparations for the 2024 Paris Olympics are beset by security and budget concerns, nearly two years to the day before the opening of the sporting extravaganza.
The Olympics are set to be a centerpiece of the newly re-elected Macron’s second term, projecting the image of a France comfortable in its modern identity and open to the world.
But as the opening ceremony on July 26, 2024 approaches, concerns are growing not only about costs, but also about security preparations.
France’s reputation as a reliable host of sporting events was seriously damaged following the chaos that marred the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris on May 28, which the critics have blamed heavy-handed policing.
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Of particular concern is the ambitious vision – in a typical Macron flourish – of an opening ceremony which will not take place as is customary in the athletics stadium, but as a flotilla on the Seine.
The meeting at the Elysée brought together key ministers such as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castera as well as the head of the Paris organizing committee, the three-time Olympic canoe slalom champion Tony Estanguet.
“The president stressed that we are only 24 months away from the Olympics and that constant mobilization is necessary,” said a presidential official, on condition of anonymity.
The organizers also revealed their official slogan – “Games Wide Open” – and said 13 million tickets will be sold for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, with almost half of those reserved for the public to be sold for less than 50 euros (51 $) .
Macron also met International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach after the rally, the Elysee Palace said.
The mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and the boss of the Paris region Valérie Pécresse were not invited. Both were unsuccessful in April’s presidential election and issued a joint statement on Friday complaining that they had been excluded.
The Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games COJO has a budget of four billion euros, as does its partner organization SOLIDEO, which is responsible for building the peripheral infrastructure.
But rising inflation means saving money and so far not enough sponsors have been found to fill the gaps.
“Everything is very tight on the budget,” said a source familiar with the matter who requested anonymity, adding that the scale of the challenge would be clear in the fall.
The Elysée official said a “dialogue has now begun” with the International Olympic Committee on areas where savings could be made.
Security is a particular headache, especially since the vision of the Games is to organize many events in the center of Paris. This includes events around the Eiffel Tower and the central Place de la Concorde, which is close to the presidential Elysée Palace.
In addition to the French security forces, more than 20,000 private security agents must be hired to ensure the running of the Games.
Estanguet insisted that Macron had prepared “from day one”.
But he admitted: “In recent months, the situation has taken him away from the Games project, so he wanted to reconnect with the different subjects,” he said.
France’s highest audit body, the Cour des comptes, warned in a report that it is “imperative” to speed up preparations to deal with the “considerable” security challenge.
“A more precise definition of security needs is becoming urgent,” says the report, the first version of a study to be published later this year. It was first revealed by the weekly Canard Enchaine then seen by AFP.
The report also suggests cutting back on the opening ceremony, which is expected to feature an armada of 200 boats and some 600,000 spectators.
The daily Le Monde said the prospect of the opening ceremony on the river – with spectators packed on the banks of the Seine – was giving organizers “cold sweats”.
The Games will represent a unique challenge. The headline athletics and swimming events are to be held in Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris, one of France’s poorest areas, with a cluster of events in the center of the capital.
The sailing events will take place on the other side of the country in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, while the surfing will take place in the peaceful territory of French Polynesia, on the other side of the world.