Almost two years to the day before the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics, organizers are said to be “cold sweats” over security, funding, venue and personnel issues that could tarnish the “national triumph” promised by Emanuel Macron.
The reformist French president, who is meeting key ministers on Monday for a progress report, is personally invested in the success of the Games, having forcefully backed the city’s successful bid to host them for the first time in a century as a opportunity to present the best of modern France.
Organizers promise to deliver a new standard for mega-events with what they have said will be the “most lean, participatory and sustainable” Olympics to date, primarily through the use of existing high-quality venues. and a relatively modest budget of 8 billion euros (£6.8). bn) budget – in comparison, the London Olympics in 2012 cost almost £9bn and the rescheduled Tokyo Games last year had an official budget of £11bn. Only 1 billion euros out of the 8 billion euros will come from taxpayers.
But French media and a recent leaked financial update suggest all may not go as planned for the Paris Games, which will draw around 9 million fans, 25,000 journalists and 14,000 competitors from 206 countries to the French capital.
The main concern of organizers is safety, with current plans for the opening ceremony on July 26 involving a high-risk aquatic extravaganza in which athletes and national delegations race down the Seine in 162 open-top boats, watched from the banks of the river by 600,000 spectators.
Opening ceremony’s unique security challenge is already giving organizers ‘cold sweats’, says The world. A former police chief said it would be “a dangerous time” and security concerns were “far from being resolved”.
According The Sunday newspapersecurity arrangements for the ceremony include police divers, bomb squads, special forces on standby, and “a special effort around city airspace control to prevent drone attacks.”
Guy Drut, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the 110m hurdles and a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1996, criticized the ceremony as being unnecessarily risky.
“The idea is brilliant,” he told the newspaper. “But in the current climate, there are just too many uncertainties. Why is there no plan B? We could do the same ceremony, watched by more people, on the Champ de Mars [near the Eiffel Tower]. It would be easier to keep safe.
Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, insisted he was “not too worried, but – speaking as someone who personally saw bodies on the streets of Paris after the terrorist attacks of the November 13, 2015 – I am certainly cautious”.
Wider security issues were also highlighted by the chaotic scenes of May’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid outside the Stade de France, the key venue for the Games, which saw violent clashes between the police and mainly Liverpool supporters holding valid tickets. .
A French government report last month highlighted multiple failings in the management of the match crowd, inadequate communications between public transport operators and the police and a lack of suitable routes to the pitch.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin promised “lessons will be learned” from the fiasco but insists that the problems of Olympic crowd management are “very different from those of a football match”, adding that the Stade de France organizes major sporting events and concerts. without serious incident for 15 years.
Nevertheless, the retirement last week of the controversial Paris police chief who was in charge of public order for the Champions League final – and whose heavy-handed approach to security has long been criticized as excessive – has was greeted.
Didier Lallement was replaced by Laurent Nuñez, a close ally of Macron, who previously worked as a senior police administrator in Paris, police chief in Marseilles and national coordinator of France’s counter-terrorism intelligence service.
Security is not the only concern of the organizers. The fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine has caused shortages of key building materials for the Olympic Village, while rampant inflation threatens to derail the event’s budget of 8 billion euros, already nearly 2 billion euros more than the estimate of 6.2 billion euros for 2015.
A confidential audit report released last week and seen by public broadcaster France Info warned of a significant risk of budget overruns, saying “strong, difficult and bold decisions” would have to be taken this fall to bring the cost under control. games. The report concluded that the “funding needs…are clearly greater than the possibilities offered by the totality of available income streams and reserve funds for unforeseen circumstances”, while warning of “fiscal tensions ahead”.
Among other concerns, French media have said negotiations with several venues – 95% of the Games will use existing venues, often outsourced to national sports federations – are progressing more slowly than expected.
Meanwhile, temporary facilities for competitions such as boxing, shooting and equestrian are costing more than expected, and venues for several basketball, handball and volleyball competitions have had to be modified.
“Budgets are being exceeded pretty much everywhere,” an official said The world. The audit report warned unambiguously that some of the ambitions of the organizers “would undoubtedly have to be scaled down considerably” by abandoning “certain projects which may not be considered essential to the realization of the event”. The Parisian organizing committee, known as Cojop, still secured the last of six major corporate sponsorships – or “premium partners” – for which it budgeted. Bank BPCE, retailer Carrefour, electricity giant EDF, telecoms operator Orange and pharmaceutical company Sanofi have already signed up – but the sixth partner, believed to be multinational luxury goods company LVMH, has not signed up. has not yet officially done.
There are also fears that the labor shortage will mean the Paris Olympics will struggle to hire enough staff – including 22,000 security guards and 1,500 bus drivers. “There are simply not the people,” said the former boss of the CGT trade union federation, Bernard Thibault. “These issues need to be addressed urgently now.” Earlier this month, the chairman of the organizing committee, three-time Olympic canoe champion Tony Estanguet, insisted earlier this month: “The project is getting stronger every day.” He added: “Having said that, it’s complex; there are challenges. After two years of Covid and a war, Paris 2024 is facing a very particular context. We’re going to have to stay flexible. Others were less optimistic. “We are moving forward in the fog,” said Patrick Karam, vice-president of the Île-de-France region. “The lack of preparation is obvious. We discover that this place is polluted, that this event must change site, that this budget item has exploded. It’s not serious.”