Ready, set, go: Paris faces hurdles for the Olympic and Paralympic games

In four months, Paris will welcome over visitors, spectators, and over 10,000 athletes for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As the opening ceremony edges closer, The Tribune takes a look at the controversies surrounding the event.

The first descent into the scandal spiral began last year, when the carefully crafted image of ethics sold to the French public began to crack as allegations of corruption surrounding the International Olympic Committee (IOC) emerged. On June 20, 2023, the French police raided several locations associated with the IOC, including the headquarters of the Organizational Committee of the Games (COJOP), as well as Solideo, the group overseeing the construction and sites for the games. France’s main anti-corruption entity, the Office Central de lutte contre la Corruption et les Infractions Financières et Fiscales (OCLCIFF) conducted the raids as part of a series of investigations that began in 2021. The following day, police raided the sports consulting firm Keneo, under potential charges of illegal conflicts of interest, embezzlement of public funds, and preferential treatment, dating back to 2017. However, these legal issues were just the start of a string of controversies. 

When the COJOP unveiled the schedule of events, it became clear that one in particular—surfing—would be taking place over 15,000 km away from the French capital in Teahupo’o, Tahiti, French Polynesia. While there is no doubt that the island hosts some of the world’s best waves, its fragile environment raises several concerns. Each year, Teahupo’o sets up and dismantles a semi-permanent wood tower to host the judges for the World Surf League competition. However, the COJOP planned to build a permanent aluminum tower almost twice as heavy as the wooden structure for the Olympics. 

Polynesian surfer Matahi Drollet flagged issues with this construction. The main concern is the ecological risks, as no environmental assessment had been conducted prior to the announcement. Risks include disruptions to the underwater ecosystem the propagation of ciguatera, an illness that plagues fish, impacting the local fishing economy. Perhaps the biggest fear is the potential influence on the nature of the island’s legendary waves. Following widespread mobilization among local communities and environmental activists, the authorities shared an updated plan. The aluminum tower will go back to the dimensions of the current structure, accommodating only 25-30 individuals, as opposed to the 40 originally planned. However, the structure will still use a concrete base for its foundation, which risks harming sea life by disrupting the physical landscape of the natural coastal ecosystem and leaching harmful chemicals into the water.  

The seemingly resolved issue resurged in early Dec. 2023 when the President of French Polynesia, Moetai Brotherson, cancelled the planned tests of the structure and halted its construction. In a video shared by the Vai Ara o Teahupo’i association following the route of the barge carrying the tower, destroyed coral reefs were clearly visible. On Dec. 5, the prosecutor’s office of Papeete opened an investigation into the potential violation of French Polynesia’s environmental code. However, the file was closed on March 3, due to “insufficiently characterized infractions.”

Back in the French capital, the Ministry of Sports announced in May 2023 that around 3,000 student accommodations would be requisitioned to house the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ staff from the Centres Régionaux des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires (CROUS), which handles accommodations, financial aid, and other support for students. The CROUS guarantee for students to regain their residences back in September and some compensation and limited assistance. However, the leading student union advocated for the CROUS to first turn to students who would willingly provide their accommodations, instead of mandating it to students who may not be able to find alternatives. Many need to stay in their accommodations over the summer due to classes or other responsibilities. Finding affordable options in Paris is a challenge in normal circumstances, and even more so in a context where excess demand from the Olympic games is pushing up prices.

Ultimately, in a race against time, one question remains: Will the City of Light be ready to host the thousands of expected visitors, or will the shadows of controversy loom over the first Olympics held in Paris since 1924?

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