Paris Won the 2024 Olympics by Learning From Its Mistakes – New York Times

Put sports, and athletes, at the forefront

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Subway stations were decorated to celebrate the successful bid.

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Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After the failed 2012 Paris bid was deemed too political, the word went out that French athletes should take the lead for the 2024 campaign.

“The main conclusion was that you had to put sports much more at the center of the bid,” said Mike Lee, the president of Vero Communications, who helped shape the message and international communications of the 2024 Paris bid.

Mr. Lee, a British lobbyist who had worked to help London win the 2012 Olympics, said in a recent interview that one of his key arguments against the Paris bid back then had been its lack of sports leadership.

Athletes have monopolized the message since Paris kicked off its new bid in 2015. Tony Estanguet, a three-time Olympic canoeing champion and co-president of the 2024 bid; and the Olympic and Paralympic champions Teddy Riner (judo) and Marie-Amélie Le Fur (track and field) were prominent.

“It was important for the state to take a step back,” François Hollande, the former French president, said in an interview on Thursday, referring to previous bids in which the role of public officials was more visible.

“It was important to realize that what mattered wasn’t only the role of public authorities, but the role of the sports world, and the overall movement.”

But welcome some politics

Of course, French political leaders have never been entirely left out. It was Mr. Hollande who first hinted at the pursuit of future Games in France when he visited athletes in London in 2012.

Mr. Hollande played a significant lobbying role when he visited the 2016 Olympics in Rio, meeting with the International Olympic Committee and influential Olympic personalities.

“In Rio, I was asked whether Paris would be able to organize safe Games,” Mr. Hollande recalled in the interview.

Terrorists had killed 130 people in Paris and in Saint-Denis a few months earlier, and France had organized the UEFA soccer championship a couple of weeks before the Olympics in Rio.

“I said that we were ready, that the necessary conditions were there, and that in terms of values, organizing the Games was the most beautiful answer we could give to fundamentalism,” he said.

And Mr. Hollande’s successor, Emmanuel Macron, used his image as a young, new and popular president to push the bid into the homestretch. He met with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, the day of his investiture, and welcomed a group of inspectors from the I.O.C. at the Élysée Palace two days after he was sworn in.

“The election of Emmanuel Macron was good news for our bid,” Mr. Lee said. The presence of an open, inclusive and, at the time, popular president for the presentation of Paris’s bid before I.O.C. members in July in Lausanne, Switzerland, had made a significant impression, he said.

Show unity, over and over

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Images of Mayor Anne Hidalgo, left, of Paris and Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles were displayed during the International Olympic Committee’s presentation in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday. Los Angeles won the 2028 Games.

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Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Paris lost to London in 2005 for the 2012 Games, the French licked their wounds and realized that when it came to the Olympics, local and national leaders could not show internal divisions.

Two officials involved in the 2024 Paris bid who witnessed the 2005 defeat said the tensions between the left-wing mayor of Paris at the time, Bertrand Delanoë, and the country’s right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, had damaged France’s chances.

“It’s important to show some unity to the I.O.C. members,” said Thierry Rey, a former Olympic judo champion who was a sports adviser and special adviser to the Paris 2024 bid.

“In France, we like division, but we are also able to unite,” Mr. Hollande said. “And when we are together, it’s hard to defeat us.”

Officials and athletes interviewed for this article used the word “unity” over and over. Ms. Hidalgo and Mr. Macron have political disagreements, but they put aside their divisions to send the same message on the bid, not least of all to I.O.C. members in July, at the last major meeting before the Olympics were awarded.

“For this kind of project, they are very compatible,” Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard said. “They are professional, they encouraged team work with athletes — and, after all, they both wanted the same outcome.”

Make it greener, cheaper and nicer

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Seine-Saint-Denis, a less affluent area northeast of Paris, will be a central part of the 2024 Games.

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Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Hidalgo, co-president of Paris’s 2024 bid, has repeatedly branded the project as greener and cheaper than previous Olympic Games.

Since her election in 2014, the mayor has worked to make the city more ecologically friendly, mostly by reducing car traffic, encouraging the use of bikes and starting a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Bid leaders argued that their Games would be ecologically responsible, and that 95 percent of the sports venues were either already built or would be temporary.

Paris’s current Olympic budget stands at 6.8 billion euros, or about $8.1 billion, with €3.8 billion for the organization of the sporting competitions and €3 billion for development and infrastructure projects.

The bid also included Paris’s troubled banlieues, or suburbs, ensuring that the Olympics would help their development. For instance, Seine-Saint-Denis — an area populated by some of the region’s less-affluent residents and plagued by a lack of decent housing, with a few gentrified neighborhoods — is to host the Olympic Village, an aquatics center and the media center.

Leaders of the 2024 bid have promised that the aquatics center would become a pool for local residents after the Games (only half of French children know how to swim by the time they reach their teens), and that the Olympic Village and media center would be turned into housing.

The decision to build major parts of the Olympic infrastructure in Seine-Saint-Denis was seen as an innovation from the failed 2012 bid, which was mostly centered in Paris. The move is reminiscent of the inclusion of the Stratford neighborhood in the 2012 London bid. It was one of the poorest areas in London but is now seen as an example of urban regeneration and housing gentrification.

Embrace the L word

And there was one more lesson learned by the French, according to Mr. Lee of Vero, and this one was perhaps the hardest. You must lobby, which he described as “the L word in France.”

“I know that in France it’s a bad word, but it means that you try to get your message across to the voting members,” Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Hollande said: “What I realized after the failure of the 2012 Paris bid was that we needed to approach this with some sports diplomacy, and to go and meet everyone that would have a role in the final decision — I.O.C. members, or influential personalities in the Olympic world.”

Ms. Hidalgo met with every I.O.C. member and has used the connections she has developed as mayor, including as chairwoman for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group — which describes itself as a network of “the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change” — to push for the Games to come to Paris, according to Mr. Julliard, the deputy mayor.

“We have learned from our previous failures, which means realizing that diplomatic lobbying across the world matters,” he said. “Maybe we were also less naïve.”


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