Paris Prepares For The Summer Olympics

Foreign Policy Brief #140 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald| May 03, 2024
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2024 is an Olympic year. Paris is hosting this summer’s Olympic Games. The preparations for a major sporting, cultural, and political event is no small feat. The Olympic Games, as I have previously written about, is very much a political event that hosts sports competitions between different countries. The preparations for the Games have hit a few hurdles in the last few months. The hurdles that they have hit are concerns over some of the venues, the security implications for the Games and the city itself, and also the reaction of the Parisian citizens to the impacts the Games will have on their day-to-day lives.


The Paris Games preparations have had large sweeping implications for not only the games themselves, but for the quality of life inside Paris. There have been concerns, especially over recent weeks, over things such as the water quality of the Seine (major river through Paris); security and safety concerns related to terrorism; and concerns made by the residents of Paris about the daily implications to their lives.

Historically speaking, the Olympic Games (and other major sporting events) are times when the host city, or country, spends a lot of time and money on giant projects. These projects often include the construction of an Olympic Village to house athletes, various venues to host sporting events, and more. Along with these projects have come human rights violations across the globe. For example when Rio hosted the Olympics in 2016 there was lots of evidence of the Brazilian government forcibly relocating people from poor communities to make room for new venues (or to just keep them out of the public eye during the games); the World Cup venues in Qatar were built using forced labor and  many people died due to inhumane working conditions. I believe that, to some, there was a hope that France’s turn to host the Olympics would be a break in this pattern; and to some degree, I believe it has been. However, the preparations have not been without their own controversy.

These games are the first post-pandemic era Olympics. France is expecting to welcome more than 15 million tourists; and over 10,000 athletes (excluding coaches and other support staff for national teams). The initial opening ceremonies, a 3.5 mile national boat cruise down the Seine, have sold out with 300,000 spectators supposed to be in attendance (the first non-stadium opening ceremonies ever), according to the BBC.

The sheer volume of people planning to enter Paris during the Games is, obviously, a massive security concern for the French and Parisian officials. The BBC reports that the French government has already screened more than one million people in advance of the games. This is a huge number but compared with the prospect of 15 million tourists coming to the city, it is an understandable concern for the city. The French Prime Minister has recently stated that the  government has already been involved in uncovering at least two terrorist plots targeting the games.

Obviously, acts of terrorism are a major concern; especially as Paris has recently experienced several major terrorist incidents. However, another threat looms in a geopolitical context, and that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Russian athletes are being forced into competing as neutral athletes under the Olympic flag (as they have done for a long time due to their doping history in previous games) as punishment for the Russian government’s war in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has spoken about his frustration that Israel is being allowed to compete under the Israeli flag for the games, even though they have also gone to war against the Palestinians. In the previous few days, protests in Paris have occurred that are demanding that Israeli athletes be forced to compete under a neutral flag, exactly like the Russian athletes have had to do. It remains yet to be seen what will happen, or what decisions will be made regarding the Israeli athletes’ participation. Russia has also, according to the BBC, offered to host the “World Friendship Games” in September as a counter-tournament to the Olympics (the Soviet Union did this the first time in 1984 to boycott the Olympics in Los Angeles), which is beyond ironic even for Vladimir Putin.

The city is hosting Olympic sports events throughout the city, and the surrounding area, with events such as field hockey in the Stades Yves-du-Manoir (a venue from the 1924 games). The marathon road race will take place from the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to Les Invalides (Napoléon’s tomb and military museum), fencing and taekwondo will be in the Grand Palais, the swimming portion of the triathlon will take place in the Seine, and the most remote event will be surfing which will be done in the French territory of Tahiti. So obviously, security will be a concern for all venues near and far.

The other concern is  more environmental. The Seine has been tested for its water quality leading up to the games and the tests have shown higher levels of fecal matter than is safe. With some events relying on accessing the water of the river, those races could be in jeopardy. There are concerns that if there are heavy rains between now and the games that the water quality could  decline further. The major event to be impacted by this environmental concern would be the men’s and women’s triathlon (potentially canceling the swim portion of that race).

The residents of Paris are also unsure, and concerned, about the daily implications of the games on their lives. It is commonly understood that the metro system in Paris will be taxed during this time to move the residents of Paris and an additional 15 million tourists; impacting the ability of Parisians to get to work  and  move freely about the city. The BBC reports that over 44% of the Parisian public thinks that hosting the Olympic games is a bad idea for the city.

It is understood that bus and metro fares are going to double during the games. The BBC has also reported that in preparation for the Olympic games, the Athlete Village will be in the neighborhood of Saint-Denis which is a very well-known and fairly poor part of Paris. There are some reports of squatters living in that area have been evicted.

The games themselves should be quite interesting to watch. There are lots of  interesting storylines from this  being the first real post-Covid Olympic games, to the geopolitical and security issues , to the daily experiences that the circus of hosting the Olympics brings to the everyday people going about their lives in Paris. The stage is set for the largest sporting event of the year, and I cannot wait to see what else happens between now and opening ceremonies.

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