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Doubts over launch site cloud 100-day countdown to Paris Olympics

By Paul Myers - RFI
Europe AP - Michel Euler
WED, 17 APR 2024 LISTEN
AP - Michel Euler

Organisers of the Paris Olympic Games began their 100-day countdown on Wednesday amid uncertainty over the site of the Opening Ceremony on 26 July.

Since December 2021, a six-kilometre slice of the River Seine has been the hallowed venue for a sound and light spectacular involving the 11,000 athletes and a flotilla of barges ferrying them along past some of the world's most famous monuments.

Preening over the first opening ceremony to take place outside a main stadium, has been evident from the announcement of the extravaganza

But less than a week after Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin highlighted fears over a terrorist attack at Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League match against Barcelona, President Emmanuel Macron raised the prospect of taking the Opening Ceremony back indoors to the Stade de France.

In a TV interview on Monday, Macron said: "There are plan Bs and plan Cs; we are preparing them in parallel. We will analyse this in real time." 

Seine the preferred option

With appropriate decorum, organising committee chief Tony Estanguet said the status symbol outdoor splash was the very probable option.

"The main objective is to achieve a very beautiful, absolutely unique Opening Ceremony, the first time that it will be held outside a stadium, in the centre of Paris on the Seine," said Estanguet, who was attending the lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia, Greece.

"All of our energy and all of the means at our disposal are being employed to make this very beautiful ceremony a success.

"In parallel to that, we are looking at all the contingency plans to adapt to the context, because that is our responsibility."

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, appeared equally malleable. 

"The only plan I know is Plan A," she said. "The message I prefer to send is that we are ready and we are going to welcome the world."

Countdown

With 100 days to go before the official start – the event gets underway a few days earlier with some games in thefootball tournament – organisers are at pains to ensure that the country is mobilised and ready to receive visitors.

"It's my role to explain that it's a fantastic opportunity for our country to host this event," said Estanguet.

"We all know that before this kind of big event, there are always many questions, many concerns."

The construction work is on track and the budget looks set to be relatively contained compared to the huge blow-outs seen at the Athens, London or Rio de Janeiro Games.

Before proffering a change of opening venue, Marcon hailed the wondrousness of the engineers and designers who have been restoring Le Grand Palais.

Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, it is into the third year of a four-year restoration project.

Work will stop to allow the venue to be deployed as the site for the fencing and taekwondo from 27 July. 

"Four years ago, we were told that it was still crazy," said Macron of the restoration project. "But now the whole world will rediscover the Grand Palais as a place of creation, of exhibition, of knowledge, and of welcoming the public."

It will be formally handed over to the Paris Olympics organising committee on Friday.

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra has been as effusive as her boss on her peregrinations for handovers of infrastructure to the organising committee.

Salute

Late last month – some 20 kilometres north of Paris – for the inauguration of the apartment blocks which will house foreign technical staff in Dugny as well as a new gymnasium in adjacent Le Bourget, she saluted the efforts of the teams involved in the 650 million-euro transformation of some 70 hectares.

"What you have done is absolutely exemplary," Oudéa-Castéra told the 200-odd workers who had gathered inside the gymnasium which will be used for sports such as badminton, handball and volleyball as well as sport climbing during and after the Games.

Flanked by the industry minister Roland Lescure, she added: "You've worked very hard over the years and you've delivered a whole complex on time and a whole extraordinary area that will enable us to be extremely proud to welcome people from all over the world."

But for all such crescendos, fears remain that the Olympic flag-waving for the start of the 100-day countdown will merely increase the animosity over issues such as the official Games poster, to the choice of artists for the Opening Ceremony.

The prospect of an appearance by the Franco-Malian singer Aya Nakamura caused an uproar among conservatives who have denounced her for being vulgar.

Veteran sociologist Hervé Le Bras said he was sceptical that the Olympics could serve as a moment of national celebration.

"Instead, there are lots of suggestions that they will underline the major fractures in France – notably the fracture between Paris and the rest of the country," he told the French news agency AFP.

In another era during the decades of post-war expansion in France, the country might have been more ready to celebrate the Olympics, Le Bras suggested.

Regional crises

The Olympics will come in a 100 days while a war in Ukraine continues to rage and the bellicosity in the Middle East rises.

On a parochial level, it seems almost skittish some trade union leaders are suggesting strikes over more pay.

Although past polls have shown majority support for the Olympics, a survey on 25 March by the Viavoice group found that 57 percent of respondents felt little or no enthusiasm about the Games in Paris.

Twenty kilometres north in Dugny, such souls would be outliers.

"The Olympic Games has been the project that has made the regeneration happen," said Quentin Gesell, mayor of Dugny.

"And it's something to be proud of. In the town where I grew up, we're going to welcome the whole world here.”

With 100 days to go, the venues have been built and kitted out for the hordes.

Around 13 million are expected. The site and grandeur of the Opening Ceremony will be of little concern to the vast majority of them.

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