City of sharing: Paris 2024

Paris has unveiled its final plans for hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 as it prepares to face off with Los Angeles in what is now a two-horse race. The bid committee is promising the most open, the most sustainable, and the most shareable Olympics ever, and is confident of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the city’s last Games by doing it all over again.

City of sharing: Paris 2024

City of love, city of lights, moveable feast – Paris is used to wearing many different monikers. It is now carrying a new description – until September at least, and possibly for the next seven years –  as it gears up for yet another bid to host the Olympic Games: ‘Paris, made for sharing’.

After failed attempts for 1992, 2008 and 2012, it has come down to this. 2024 will mark a century since the French capital hosted the Olympic Games for the last time, a timespan that all within the bid committee, and many outside it, believe is too long. The birthplace of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement and founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and one of the world’s truly global cities, is once again ready to share itself with the world.

The slogan was unveiled at an event marking the official launch of Paris’ bid and the submission of its bid book to the IOC – an event which saw the Eiffel Tower lit up with the words ‘made for sharing’. The decision to present the bid’s strapline in English has caused a certain amount of consternation across France, unsurprisingly for a country which takes such pride in its language and has a body, l’Académie française, dedicated entirely to its protection and preservation. There is, as bid committee members keenly point out, a French version of the strapline – Vennez Partager – which is being used on all French communications, but it is clear that this remains a broadly outward-looking campaign, and that has meant, unfortunately for some in France, a heavy reliance on English as the lingua franca of the Olympic movement. 

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who has made the Olympic bid a cornerstone of her tenure, defended the decision as such, arguing that “it is very important to speak to as many people as possible. If we share like we say, we need to speak in other languages, to talk to everyone”.

That, perhaps, is a lesson that has been gleaned from those past unsuccessful attempts, which have formed an important part of the learning process this time around. Tony Estanguet, the three-time Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist and now co-president of the Paris 2024 bid committee, points particularly to the unexpected decision for 2012 – when Paris was widely expected to triumph over London only to lose by a narrow margin of four votes – as the most eye-opening experience.

“We try to learn from the previous failures, but also from previous successes,” says Estanguet. “And London was a great success. Many of us were in London to participate as athletes or to participate in whatever roles. We tried to analyse the previous candidacies of France and what we could learn but we tried also to look at how the winning bids in the past made it. 

“I think London was a strong message to inspire a generation. But ‘made for sharing’ reflects the fact that since the beginning this team of athletes, which is really passionate about the Games and Olympism, really wants to share their knowledge and expertise. This is for us the main thing that we want to put in front, this strong desire, this deep affection for Olympism, and that we want to share it with the kids and with this ‘sharing generation’.”

The phrase, of course, also plays on a very modern sense of ‘sharing’. According to the 2016 Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index, Paris is the third most-visited city in the world, after Bangkok and London, though the 2024 bid committee is confident in its claim that the French capital is the planet’s most shared city on social media, with world famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Château de Versailles providing backdrops to millions of selfies and profile pictures every day. 

After so much was made of the imagery that came out of London and Rio – and the ‘shareability’ of photographs and videos of the latter in particular – this is one of the areas in which the Paris bid feels it is especially strong compared with its now only rival, Los Angeles. It is not just the presence of iconic landmarks, and of a city so famous it has a syndrome named after it. Much is also being made of Paris’ ability to present a compact, truly city-based  Olympic Games – one of the factors frequently cited in London’s success, and opposed to the relative sprawl of Beijing and Rio, where venues were scattered, as they would be in LA. 

This also plays into another element which bid committee has made a key part of its campaign.  Its promise is to host ‘the greenest Games ever’ – as, it seems, is the promise of every Olympic bid in the modern era – with the close proximity of all the proposed venues a major point in that, with plans to house three quarters of all travelling spectators a maximum of 30 minutes by bike from all of the major venues. Speaking to SportsPro at the Sustainable Innovation in Sport (SIIS) forum in Munich in February, Jérôme Lachaze, the bid’s head of sustainability, says that the ambition was to “use the Olympics as a real accelerator of environmental transition”.

Lachaze says that the Paris Agreement – the treaty signed on dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation during the COP21 conference in the city in 2015 – provided an inspiration for the committee to dig deeper into green issues than any previous bid. Hidalgo calls climate change “the most important issue in the world, for me”.

“That’s why we decided to leverage the power of Paris and work on the carbon footprint and see what would be the footprint of Paris 2024,” Lachaze explains. “95 per cent of the infrastructure is already existing or will be a temporary construction. We have a world class public transport system. In the end, we found that Paris would have a 55 per cent lower carbon footprint than London. We target to go even further, not just be neutral but have a positive impact.” 

Whether the environmental impact can be a positive one or not – it is arguable that such mega-events can never be fully sustainable, only more sustainable than the one before – convincing the public of the wider, longer-term benefits for the city and the country has proved an increasingly difficult challenge for would-be host cities. Already the race for the 2024 Games had seen potential bids from Hamburg, Boston and Rome fall by the wayside due to a lack of public support and then, at the final hurdle and with a whimper rather than a bang, Budapest withdrew its candidature – just as Paris and LA were officially submitting their proposals – in the wake of a petition signed by 260,000 people seeking a referendum on the bid. 

Such was the Hungarian capital’s outsider status in this race that the news is unlikely to have raised so much as a cheer in Paris or Los Angeles. The two were already overwhelming favourites and Budapest’s withdrawal merely makes official that this is a two-horse race, between two cities where public support remains at an unusual high. Estanguet cites recent polls as showing nationwide approval rates of the bid at 80 per cent, with Hidalgo adding that Parisians “want to share their city with the world”.

The worry for Paris – as for LA – is that the ostensible ‘Olympic values’, the moral code of Olympism, appears singularly at odds with the day’s prevailing political winds. Just as the election of US president Donald Trump has forced the Los Angeles bid on to the defensive, maintaining that the Olympic Games always remains above political issues, so the prospect of a victory for far-right candidate Marine le Pen in this spring’s polls has prompted a change of tune for Paris 2024. Late last year, Estanguet admitted that political support for the bid was crucial – it was as much a lack of political as public support that spiked Rome’s candidacy – though his stance has softened in recent weeks amid the political turmoil that has led to le Pen’s chances of taking office significantly improving.

“This is a sport team leading this bid, not a political one,” he tells SportsPro at the bid book launch event. “The identity of this bid really reflects the identity of athletes and sportspeople, and whatever the politicians, whoever will be elected in the Élysée Palace, it is not really our role. It is the role of the French people to elect the president of the republic. We are sure that it is useful for this country to host the Games, to share those values with the world, and I think this message was quite strong for the French public because we have this 80 per cent public support. We have strong support from political leaders. Because they understood that it was important and a good opportunity for this country. 

“I don’t want to speculate about who will be elected in May because it’s not my role at this time; my role is to keep on pushing and sharing this project with as many people as possible. So far I believe that we are strong on this.”

In part, this is simply down to bad timing. A year sooner and the two bidding countries would have been facing uncertain futures but at least stable presents, with François Hollande and Barack Obama still presiding over the two countries. Trump, for his part, has not yet spoken out against the Olympic bid and, with public support for it so high across France, it is unlikely le Pen will do so either. Nevertheless, the ideology, such as it is, of both politicians is decidedly not ‘made for sharing’.

Hidalgo believes that support for the bid in France shows that the public still cling to what she calls the “humanist values” of the Olympic movement, and argues that the Games themselves can act as a bulwark against reactionary politics, demonstrating what can be achieved when diverse groups of people come together.

“I know in France we have people who say that we don’t need people from other cities and other countries, we don’t need refugees,” she says. “But I think the Olympic values now are very important, because the world is in a new age and in mutation, it’s changing in very big ways. We have the problem of refugees, of war in many countries in the world, we have a lot of instability. I think that the Olympic values are very important now because Olympic Games are the most important event in the world to unite everyone through sport. You can have different religions, you can come from any countries, but what is important is the equality and just competition. 

“I think the most important event in the world is the Games, not just because the athletes are here but because the Games are supporting humanist values. We need to have hope today and the Olympic Games give hope to people everywhere on the planet.”