The Paris Olympics are 100 days away – Venues ready but questions over opening ceremony and security

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In 100 days, Paris will host the most famous sporting jamboree on the planet: the summer Olympic Games.

There will be action across 32 sports watched by millions of visitors, as well as an unprecedented opening ceremony set to take place on the River Seine, which runs through the city’s heart. At least, that is plan A, anyway — Emmanuel Macron, the French president, confirmed an off-river contingency for the first time on Monday.

Excitement has not quite taken hold in Paris yet. Decorations around the city remain discrete for a Games awarded to the French capital in September 2017. The City Hall has been plastered with Olympic regalia, but the focus of messaging has primarily been on practicality — “anticiper les jeux” (anticipate the Games), as posters on the Paris Metro, the city’s subway system, depict it.

The past few years have seen plenty of focus on staging the Games, but there has been much more discussion about the practical impact. Authorities have battled and quarrelled to meet deadlines and targets. There have been fears around security, heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza conflict, with the audacious, river-based opening ceremony — set to be the first time a Games has not opened in a stadium — a particular area of concern.

Add in worries about transport disruption and the threats of strike action from unions with public sector workers, including police, demanding pay concessions for the extra work anticipated for the Games, and the build-up has been anything but smooth. Even ‘les bouquinistes’, the booksellers who maintain a 400-year tradition on the banks of the River Seine, erupted in protest at the prospect of temporary removal for the opening ceremony.

Booksellers have lined the Seine for more than four centuries (Mohamad Salaheldin Abdelg Alsayed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

But now, the focus should turn to what else the Games has to offer before the Olympics begin on July 26 (although the men’s and women’s competitions for soccer and rugby sevens begin on July 24), with the Paralympic Games to follow from August 28 until September 8.

“This is the French edition,” joked Emmanuel Gregoire, the mayor of Paris’ first deputy, when asked about optimism before the Games at a press briefing this month. “At the beginning, we have been talking only about problems — but we feel that the joy is growing.”

The Olympic flame is now ablaze, lit on Tuesday on Mount Olympia in Greece before beginning its journey across 400 towns and cities in 65 regions of the French territories and landing in Marseille on May 8.

“Paris 2024 begins on May 8, that’s kick-off,” said Pierre Rabadan, the deputy mayor in charge of sport, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Seine. 

The first torch runners with the Olympic flame in Olympia on April 16 (Socrates Baltagiannis/picture alliance via Getty Images)

It has been a long journey to reach this point. Since Paris was awarded the Games, there has been a global pandemic — which first postponed the Tokyo Olympics and then forced it behind closed doors — conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, inflationary pressures, and screaming headlines about bedbug infestations hitting Paris.

It is safe to say the world could do with a little bit of joy and maybe the Games can provide that.

The question now is whether Paris is ready.

Are the sporting venues ready?

The permanent sites are ready. Paris is aiming to host a sustainable, green-focused Games, with 95 per cent of tournament venues either temporary or using already existing infrastructure.

The new permanent sites — the ones built specifically for the Olympics — are nearly there. The only new sports venue within inner Paris, the Adidas Arena at Porte de la Chapelle in the 18th arrondissement, opened in February. The two-hectare site will host badminton, rhythmic gymnastics, para-badminton and para-weightlifting.

The other two new sites, the Olympic Village and the Aquatic Centre, are in Saint-Denis, north of Paris and near the Stade de France, the national stadium. The Olympic Village was handed over to the organising committee in February and the Aquatics Centre opened this month.

The Aquatics Center in front of Stade de France in February (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images)

“I thought it was not possible, but we delivered them two weeks or one month before the (due) date,” said Rabadan. “So that’s a good point for two things. First, because we are not late and less pressure. Second, because we want to respect our budget.”

Not everything is finished, however. The temporary and renovated venues are in the process of completion, while some training sites are not yet ready. Rabadan added: “Some of the renovations for training camps and venues, we are finishing. For example, we have a massive swimming pool in the north of Paris (20th arrondissement), Piscine Georges-Vallerey. That will open up at the end of April.”

Redeveloped venues include the renovated Yves du Manoir Stadium, used for the eighth Olympiad in 1924, which will host field hockey competitions. Temporary sites are also being put together around famous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower (beach volleyball), the Place de la Concorde (which will become an urban park and host 3×3 basketball, BMX freestyle and skateboarding), the Champ de Mars (judo and wrestling) and the Hotel de Ville (archery, athletics, cycling). The Grand Palais, on the Champs-Elysees, will host taekwondo and fencing.

Existing infrastructure is also being used and sometimes re-purposed, such as the home of tennis’ French Open, Roland-Garros (tennis and boxing), and La Defense Arena, which is home to rugby union side Racing 92 and holds major concert events but will host swimming and water polo.

“We are exactly where we would like to be 100 days before the Olympic Games,” said Rabadan.

What about other infrastructure, such as transport?

The extension of Metro Line 14 is due to be ready. This will link Saint-Denis, the heart of the Games, with Paris-Orly airport. Capacity is being increased through more trains and other developments, such as an extension of the tramway to Porte Dauphine, which will allow access to Porte de la Chapelle. That is now complete. The group of new lines, named the “Grand Paris Express”, will not all be ready. The new lines 15, 16, 17 and 18 will open before 2030.

“We’ve known for a very long time that the Paris Express could not be ready for the Games,” said Gregoire. “So it’s not a problem, but of course, it could have been better. But these lines don’t serve Olympic sites. The major aspect is we are guaranteed to have the 14th line in Paris. This will open in May or June.”

“We will have 15 per cent more offerings of trains and metros during the Games,” said Rabadan.

The Charles de Gaulle expressway, a new line that will speed up links between Charles de Gaulle airport and the Gare de l’Est, will not be ready. “It was supposed to be delivered for the Olympic Games,” said Gregoire. “But five years ago, we knew it would not be ready. It would be ready at the end of 2025-26.”

More trains and more people will mean more cost. During the Games, transport fares will be doubled.

Will the opening ceremony actually happen on the Seine?

As it stands, athletes will parade outside a stadium for the first time, as part of a large flotilla of boats along the River Seine.

The event will start at the Bibliotheque Nationale and conclude at the Trocadero, the site of the Palais de Chaillot, on the opposite bank of the river to the Eiffel Tower.

It promises to be an eye-catching spectacle, but questions have been raised about feasibility — particularly given heightened security risks. Last month, following an attack at a concert hall in Moscow that killed more than 130 people, France raised its terrorist alert warning to its highest level.

The complexity and uncertainty are mainly due to the large numbers set to attend and the challenge of securing the river. Initial hopes of more than a million in attendance were quickly dashed, but the capacity is still set to be more than five times that of the Stade de France (which can hold 80,000 people).

As well as 10,500 athletes, around 600,000 people will attend the ceremony. Of those, 104,000 are paid tickets sold by the Olympic Committee, 220,000 are distributed across the organising parties (the state, city of Paris and Paris 2024), and 200,000 will be for those on barges or watching on balconies.

(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

Other considerations have had some impact. Les bouquinistes, the booksellers who have lined the Seine in some capacity for almost 400 years, caused a bit of a headache when they refused to remove their box stalls, some of which are a century old, for the opening ceremony. This dispute has been resolved, albeit at a cost, after Macron intervened. “We lost 70,000 spectators to guarantee security,” said Rabadan.

So is there a plan B? There have been mixed messages. This month, Paris city officials insisted the event will not be taken off the water. “We can reduce the impact and the facilities of the opening ceremony if the international risk becomes harder,” said Rabadan. “We can reduce it, the show, the number of people. But there is no plan B.”

But on Monday, Macron said there were contingencies — potentially even off the river. Asked what would happen if security risks made the river procession too risky, he told BFM TV/RMC: “There are plan Bs and plan Cs. We have a ceremony that would be limited to the Trocadero so it would not cover the entire Seine. Or we could return to the Stade de France. This is what is traditionally done.”

In a statement on Monday, city officials said: “While announcing alternative projects, the president reiterated his priority commitment to the ceremony on the Seine. This is an objective shared by all stakeholders.”

If Paris can pull off the ceremony in full, it will be spectacular. The opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games will take place along the Champs-Elysées.

What do we know about security plans?

France’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, outlined this month that an “anti-terrorist” perimeter would be set up around the Seine one week before the opening ceremony. It will be several square miles in size and closed to traffic unless authorised, while 15 metro and tram stations will shut, too. Only four bridges will stay open. This will then ramp up again on July 26, with no entry permitted after 1pm. Those living inside this security cordon will need a QR code to enter. “If you have not registered, you will not be able to return,” said Darmanin.

“The police need to check who they are in case they represent a threat to security,” added Gregoire. “They will have strong security measures days before. The idea is to maintain the possibility that neighbours can welcome friends and family. At the same time, to guarantee security.”

Checks are underway for volunteers and torchbearers. This month, Darmanin told broadcaster LCI that they had “excluded 800 people, including 15 on ‘Fiches S’ (the list of the most serious threats)”.

What about swimming in the Seine? 

Paris wants to host the cleanest Olympic Games in history and plans to clean up the River Seine and use it to host events, such as triathlon and open-water swimming. Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, but organisers hope they will be able to open three bathing areas in the river before 2025, a key legacy target of the Games.

To help offset severe waste run-off during heavy rain, a new multi-million dollar storage basin is being constructed near the river, designed to store enough wastewater to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Concerns have been raised about the suitability of the river in a worst-case scenario, such as after intense heavy rain. “You need a plan B in case it’s not possible to swim,” said reigning Olympic 10-kilometre open-water champion Ana Marcela Cunha, speaking to AFP last month. “The health of athletes must come first.”

City officials insisted they are confident the river-based events will take place without hazard, but the risk of one leg of the triathlon (swimming, cycling and running) remains.

“We know if there is a problem we can delay the event by two days,” said Rabadan.

“We will finish all the work and the quality of water (will be suitable). Unless we have two months of continuous rain during the summer, we will be ready.” 

How much will this all cost?

Last month, credit rating agency S&P Global estimated that the Paris Olympics is “unlikely to do any lasting damage to France’s finances”.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 96 per cent of the budget for organising the Games has come from the private sector, “namely the IOC, partner companies, the Games ticket office, and licensing”.

A 2022 budget review by Paris 2024 cites a total of €4.38bn (£3.74bn, $4.66bn) for the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, with an IOC allocation of €1.2bn (including TV rights of €750m and partnerships contribution of €470m). Ticketing, hospitality and licensing will contribute €1.1bn, €170m and €127m and partnerships will bring in €1.226bn, according to the review. There will be a further four per cent of public funding to finance the organisation of the Paralympic Games.

President Macron views a model of the Aquatics Centre on April 4 (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

The rest of infrastructure spending and modification should double that budget, according to reports, to around €8.8bn. It has risen from a reported €6.7billion, but that is still below London, Rio and Tokyo.

This month, the former president of the French court of auditors, Pierre Moscovici, told France Inter that the Games “should cost” between €3bn and €5bn, although the true cost will not be known until after the Games have concluded.


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What’s the legacy vision?

Paris wants to host the Olympics and Paralympics using predominantly existing infrastructure, but more broadly, an environmentally-friendly approach is central to these Games.

This is defined by the cleaning of the Seine, but also by an increase in the number of bikes. There will be “10,000 more bikes” in Paris, according to city officials, with the network expanding to 1,400 kilometres (870 miles). Of those, there will be 60 ‘Olympistes’ — cycle routes dedicated to the Games and moving between venues.

Paris is aiming for a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared with the averages of London 2012 and Rio 2016. They want to use 100 per cent renewable energy and intend to achieve this using modifications such as connecting all venues to the grid, therefore limiting the use of temporary diesel generators. They want all sites accessible by public transport and are even “doubling the plant-based food to reach a target of 1kg of CO2 per meal, compared with the 2.3kg French average”, according to Paris 2024.

Ugo Gattoni, artist of the Paris 2024 Official Poster (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Ensuring a lasting impact in disadvantaged communities is also on the agenda. Saint-Denis, in particular, is set to benefit, with the athletes’ accommodation planned to be turned into 2,800 homes after the Games, 25 per cent of which will be social housing. The area also stands to gain renovated pools, including the Aquatics Center, which will replace a 50-year-old 25-metre pool.

This, along with cycling, will assist a sporting legacy. There will also be more access for disability sports. “Four years ago, only four sporting clubs (in Paris) could welcome young people with disabilities,” said Gregoire. “Before the Games, we are speaking of almost 50.”

The other new arenas will be repurposed. The Adidas Arena will become the headquarters of the Paris Basketball Club, and will host concerts and schoolchildren.

Fundamentally, though, Paris wants to breathe life back into the Olympic movement, which suffered due to the pandemic at the Tokyo Games.

“The world needs some joy and if the Paris edition of the Olympic Games helps a little for that, that would be good for everyone,” said Gregoire.

(Top photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)