PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday holds a meeting of ministers to tackle issues overshadowing preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympics, almost two years to the day before the sporting extravaganza opens.
The Olympics should be a centrepiece of the freshly re-elected Macron’s second term, projecting an image of a France comfortable in its modern identity but open to the world.
But with two years to go to the opening ceremony on July 26, 2024, concerns are growing not just over costs but also security preparations.
France’s reputation as a reliable host of sporting events took a major battering over the chaos that marred the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris on May 28 that critics blamed on heavy-handed policing.
A particular subject of anxiety 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 down the River Seine.
Monday’s meeting at the Elysee Palace will include key ministers such as Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera.
It will be a chance for the ministers “to take note of where there are weaknesses”, said a French presidential official who asked not to be named.
“The idea is to be aware of the calendar and the next stages.”
It will not include Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and the Paris region boss Valerie Pecresse, who were both unsuccessful candidates in the April presidential election and who on Friday issued a joint statement complaining about being excluded.
The Olympics organising committee COJO has a budget of four billion euros ($4.1 billion), as does its partner organisation SOLIDEO, which is charged with building the peripheral infrastructure.
But rising inflation means economies have to be made and so far insufficient sponsors have been found to plug the gaps.
“Everything is very tight concerning the budget,” said a source close to the issue who asked not to be named, saying the extent of the challenge would be clear in the autumn.
Security is a particular headache, especially as the vision of the Games is to hold many events in the centre of Paris.
This includes events around the Eiffel Tower and the central Place de la Concorde, which is close to the president’s Elysee Palace.
In addition to the French security forces, over 20,000 private security agents need to be hired to ensure the Games can proceed.
France’s top audit body, the Cour des Comptes, has warned in a report that it is “imperative” to accelerate preparations to deal with the “considerable” security challenge.
“A more precise definition of security needs is becoming urgent,” said the report, the initial version of a study that will be published later this year. It was first revealed by the Canard Enchaine weekly and then seen by AFP.
The report also suggests scaling down the opening ceremony, which is set to have an armada of 200 boats and some 600,000 spectators.
Some 10 million spectators are expected overall but projects to improve Paris’ sometimes ramshackle transport infrastructure, notably with two new metro lines, will not be ready when the Games begin. The Games will pose a unique challenge.
The showcase athletics and swimming events are due to be held in Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris, one of the lowest-income areas in France, and a cluster of events in the centre of the capital.
Sailing events will take place at the other end of the country in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, while the surfing will be in the Pacific territory of French Polynesia, on the other side of the world.