International Surf Association 'welcomes' pause in Olympics works at Tahiti venue

DEC 7, 2023 LISTEN

The International Surf Association (ISA) has said it welcomes the decision by authorities to suspend work on the venue in Tahiti for the Paris Olympics events.

Work has been put on hold after damage was done to coral during tests last week, raising the prospect of the Pacific island being stripped of its hosting rights.

A new judges' tower had been planned to replace the current wooden structure for the surfing competitions at the Games, taking place between 27-30 July.

"The French Polynesian government has taken the decision to pause all further testing and preparations to draw lessons following the incident on the reef," the International Surf Association (ISA) said on social media.

The ISA was saddened and surprised to see that a test undertaken by the French Polynesian government resulted in the coral reef at Teahupo'o being damaged by a barge.

"The ISA welcomes this decision, and has urged intensified consultations to consider all available options."

Damaged coral reef

On Friday, a construction barge used to install the new tower broke more of the beach's corals in a new test in the French Pacific territory, which was filmed by environmental groups.

French Polynesia president Moetai Brotherson then questioned whether events could go ahead at the site.

More than 180,000 people have signed an online petition against the planned aluminium judges' tower in the sea, supposed to reach a height of 14 metres (46 feet), while hundreds have protested at the Teahupo'o site itself.

And local associations argued the installation would damage corals beyond repair.

Save Teahupo'o Reef, a coalition of locals, surfers and environmental NGOs, showed the barge apparently stuck on the reef, along with broken coral and the barge's damaged propeller.

"The barge got stuck on the reef several times," as locals had predicted, Save Teahupo'o said, adding that this occurred at high tide with no load on the barge.

Worry about environment protection

Residents of Teahupo'o in October protested the tower plans.

From the beginning of the proposal to host Olympic surfing in French Polynesia, the ISA has always insisted that the protection of the natural environment in Teahupo'o is a priority.

"This vision was agreed and is shared by all parties," the ISA said.

The revised installation will match the previous wooden tower in size and weight, reducing the weight on the foundations. This, in turn, would reduce the depth of drilling, organisers said.

"As life-long surfers, we are passionate about the need to protect the oceans, for us and for future generations," the ISA added.

"We are therefore committed to working with all parties in order to find a common agreement on running the competition while protecting the local, natural environment."

Even the American surfing legend Kelly Slater posted online recently saying it "doesn't make any sense to need such a giant tower for a 2 days event", suggesting to "give the money to local infrastructure" instead.

 (with newswires)