LA versus Paris: What you need to know about Paris 2024
by Jonathan Rest
The IOC’s evaluation commission for the 2024 Olympics rolls into Paris on 14 May for a three-day inspection of the city’s hosting credentials. Sportcal Insight analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the French capital’s bid. Author
12th May 2017, 12:22

From the outset, Paris 2024 insisted that this bid would avoid France’s failings in recent Olympic bid races. The first piece of business was to bring in Tony Estanguet, the three-times Olympic canoe slalom winner and youthful French IOC member, as co-chair of the bid along with Bernard Lapasset, the experienced sports administrator and former chairman of World Rugby. 

Proposed dates

Olympic Games: 2-18 August -- Paralympic Games: 4-15 September

Strengths

=         The ‘story’: centenary of 1924 Olympics in Paris 

=         Photogenic games with sport taking place in front of iconic landmarks

=         High-class public transport network

Weaknesses

=         Security?

=         Bids also on table for 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2025 World Expo – can France afford all three? 

=         Carries the dreaded ‘favourite’ tag

Tony Estanguet: Part of a strategy to convice the IOC the bid is led by sportspeople

Bringing in Estanguet was part of a strategy by the bid to convince IOC members that it will be led by sportspeople and will not become bogged down in bureaucracy and political infighting: the fate, arguably, of the city’s previous unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 games, as well as of Annecy’s similarly unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 winter Olympics. 

Etienne Thobois, chief executive of Paris 2024, said at the start of the campaign: “We looked into various elements of previous bids to understand what we did right and wrong. People were telling us throughout the Olympic movement and we listened to the message.

“It’s not about pushing the politicians aside. We have the full support of all three levels of government [city, region and national] but there is a clear understanding that sportspeople should lead, with the support of government.” 

And politicians have certainly been visible in this bid, led by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris. Hidalgo has made landing the 2024 Olympic Games a focal point of her office. Born in Spain, she has spoken at great length of the inclusivity and openness of France, a nod, no doubt, to the political landscape of this Olympic Games bid.

Hidalgo told the ANOC assembly in November 2016: “To be an immigrant, to be a woman, to have dual nationality and to be able to be mayor of Paris… This city has brought me opportunity and freedom. Paris has an incredible force.” 

She also agreed to allow her city’s most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower, to be emblazoned with an English slogan, ‘Made for Sharing’, when Paris 2024 unveiled its motto on 3 February to mark the international launch of the bid. That’s an English slogan on France’s cultural icon. It would not have been an easy sell, yet it was another sign that lessons have been learned from the failed 2012 bid.

Anne Hidalgo: 'Paris has an incredible force'

Estanguet explained: “Why? The big change from the past is definitely the desire to win. We looked at it with the fact that if we really want to win we have to convince the members and the Olympic family. The fact is, at this time, 80 per cent of them speak English, so yes it’s a big change.

“The best strategy to defend French and La Francophonie is to make sure that the French bid will win, and maybe one of the means to reach this goal is to have this culture to be open and share the bid with the world, and that has to be done in English.”

If lessons have been learned from Paris 2012, there’s an admission also that prompts have been taken from London 2012. 

One key message in the Paris bid is that the 2024 Olympics would help regenerate Saint-Denis, one of the poorest areas in the north of the city, where the proposed Athletes’ Village will be built and later sold off as 3,500 much-needed housing units. 

It is a model akin to London 2012’s regeneration of Stratford into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Once a forgotten area in the east of the capital, it is now awash with houses, a school, shops, restaurants and green spaces. 

That said, the village is the biggest concern for Paris 2024. It and an Aquatics Centre - the only permanent sports venue to be built specifically for the games – are the sole construction projects, yet they are two of the three Olympic Games jobs that are most prone to cost overruns and delays. 

Thankfully the other one, the Olympic Stadium, already exists in the shape of the impressive Stade de France, in Saint-Denis.

The Stade de France is located in the bid's Grand Paris Zone

Paris has said the games will cost around €3.2 billion ($3.4 billion), an amount to be raised through an equal public-private partnership, which includes contributions of: €1 billion from the federal government; €145 million from the City of Paris; €145 million from the Paris regional government; and €135 million from the region of Seine-Saint Denis. 

That budget is guaranteed, yet recent games history suggests Paris 2024 will do well to come in at €3.2 billion. 

Elsewhere, Paris’ venue plan reads like a tourist map: the cycling time trial beginning at the Eiffel Tower and finishing at the Palace of Versailles; beach volleyball at the foot of the Eiffel Tower; open-water swimming and the swim legs of the triathlon competition in the River Seine; fencing in the Grand Palais, tennis at Roland Garros and archery at Les Invalides.

As the bid book says: “One of the most recognisable cities in the world, Paris’s unique backdrop and storied history will provide a dreamlike setting to showcase the games, especially for broadcasters.” 

Almost 70 per cent of competition venues are in two zones: the Paris Centre Zone, which includes 13 competition venues along the River Seine; and the Grand Paris Zone, encompassing six competition venues, including the Stade de France and the adjacent Aquatics Centre, as well as the Athletes and Media Villages and the Main Media Centre. Soccer preliminaries will be staged around the country, while Marseille on the south coast will host sailing.

According to the bid book, “spectators will enjoy sustainable, easy-to-access rapid public transport options to 100 per cent of games venues, as every location in Paris is within 400 metres of a metro station.” 

In total, 22 sports will be located within a 10-kilometre radius of the Olympic Village, while 85 per cent of athletes will be within 30 minutes of their competition venues and all training venues, outside of competition venues, will be within 20 minutes of the village.

Political landscape

It’s not difficult to imagine the collective sigh of relief that must have filled Paris 2024 headquarters on 7 May when Emmanuel Macron was elected the new president of France, taking almost two thirds of the vote to see off Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate.

Emmanuel Macron: the bid says 'He understands the power of sport'

There were fears that the nationalist, protectionist policies of Le Pen could have alienated IOC members when they vote to decide the host city of the games in Lima, Peru on 13 September.

One IOC member had told Sportcal ahead of the vote: “If Le Pen is elected, the impact may well be more profound than the election of [US president Donald] Trump – and it will be much closer to ‘Game Day’.”

Paris 2024 said of Macron after his election: “He understands the power of sport and how the games can be a force for real change and help build inspiration and inclusion.”

It is understood the new president will meet commission members on 15 or 16 May.

One potential snag is his political enmity with Hidalgo, albeit a spokesman for Macron attempted to play that down, telling l’Equipe: “They don’t appreciate each other politically, but they agree on the Olympics.”

The rise in Le Pen’s popularity coincided with a rise in the terror threat in France, which has been hit by a series of militant Islamist attacks over the past two years in which more than 230 people have been killed. A state of emergency declared across France in November 2015 remains in force. 

France, of course, is not alone in facing terror threats, and Paris 2024 will point to Euro 2016 and the 2017 Men’s Handball Championships as major sports events that have taken place without incident in the country. But the threat is real. 

Speaking at the international launch of the Paris 2024 bid on the day when a French soldier wounded a man armed with a machete as he tried to enter the Louvre museum, French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve said: “The terrorist risk is everywhere in the world, the US have also been attacked.

“In 2024 we will have a high level of mobilisation that will guarantee a level of security that participants have a right to expect.”

Key players

Anne Hidalgo

Mayor of Paris, Hidalgo has been a prominent figure in this bid process, bringing passion to the presentation team.  

Tony Estanguet

Three times an Olympic canoeing champion, Estanguet is co-chair of the bid, an indication that this campaign is athlete-, not politician-focused. Estanguet, vice-president of the International Canoe Federation, has been an IOC member since 2013 through his membership of the athletes’ commission, of which he is now vice-chair. 

Bernard Lapasset

The former chairman of World Rugby, and co-chair of Paris 2024, Lapasset is well-known within Olympic circles, having led the successful bid for rugby sevens to join the Olympics programme for Rio 2016. He’ll be looking to put that lobbying experience to use for a second time.  

Etienne Thobois

A former French badminton champion, who represented the country at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Thobois is chief executive of Paris 2024. As director of Keneo, the Paris-based sports events consultancy, he was involved in support for Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics and previously worked with Lapasset during the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

France’s IOC members

Tony Estanguet, IOC member since 2013, vice-chairman of athletes’ commission 

Guy Drut, IOC member since 1996

Sportcal