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Paris eyes London 2012 with mix of relief and regret
In July 2005 France reacted angrily after its capital city was pipped to the post by old rival London in the race to host the 2012 Olympic Games. But seven years on many Parisians are thankful the vote did not go their way.
When London was awarded the 2012 Olympics ahead of Paris by a slender margin of 4 votes, the decision was met with disappointment and acrimony in the French capital.
The crowds who had gathered at the Paris town hall on a summer’s day in 2005 expecting to celebrate victory, instead skulked away in shock as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its decision.
As Londoners celebrated in Trafalgar Square, the recriminations and accusations soon started to fly in Paris, which had been favourite to land the games.
The finger was promptly pointed at striking transport workers who had disrupted a visit by IOC officials. London’s bid team also came under fire for criticising Paris's proposed Olympic venues.
The pain of rejection hurt even more because it was the third time in recent history that the IOC had turned down a Paris Olympic bid. The French capital also missed out in 1992 and 2008.
With the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just days away, Parisians could be forgiven for peering over the channel with jealous eyes. But in fact many are looking on in relief.
With the country mired in debt and still scarred from this year's terrorist attacks in Toulouse, many are grateful that it is the British who are shelling out billions in costs, dealing with threats of strikes by bus drivers, and struggling to provide adequate security arrangements.
'Paris could have been like Athens'
“You won’t find many French people who are unhappy at losing the Olympics now,” Parisian security consultant Christophe Anglard told FRANCE 24 on Thursday. “And in England you will find a lot of people who are worried about the amount of money that is being spent.”
“When the games begin maybe we will talk about sport, but at the moment the economy is all that matters here now,” he said.
In 2005 the original estimation of the cost of hosting London 2012 was around £2.4 billion, but a parliamentary committee recently announced the cost for the public sector alone had soared to around £11 billion. Now experts say extra costs - such as the last-minute deployment of army personnel to guarantee security - could push the total cost of hosting the games to around £30 billion.
Many in Paris are glad that kind of sum is not leaving the French state's depleted coffers.
“If you look at Greece a lot of their debt was caused by the decision to host the Olympic Games in 2004. Many of the stadiums and venues now lie empty and unused. The same could have happened in Paris,” office worker Evelyne Bergamasco, told FRANCE 24.
“France is in too much debt right now,” administrator Stephane Dijon, another Parisian, told FRANCE 24. “We just wouldn’t have the money to put on an event like the Olympics.”
'As long as we win more medals than Britain'
But not everyone in the city is relieved at missing out on the cost. There are many who still regret the fact the 17-day sporting bonanza will be held on the other side of the Channel.
“It does seem a bit of a mess in London, but I wish Paris had won. It would have been a chance for us to improve the city’s infrastructure and welcome visitors from all over the world,” said Parisian Agnes Nobreca, who works for a credit card company.
Sports enthusiasts in Paris are naturally more likely to feel a tinge of regret over the coming days.
“Hosting the Olympics would have given us a great opportunity to improve a lot of sporting facilities in and around Paris,” Eurosport journalist Cedric Rouquette told FRANCE 24.”It would also have been a huge stage to demonstrate the strength of French sport.”
Care home manager and Paris resident Steven Sonder wants France’s Olympic athletes to make up for the disappointment of losing out.
“As long as we win more medals than the British then I’ll be happy. And I think we will,” Sonder told FRANCE 24, adding that "the Olympics would have been better here because Paris is a more beautiful city."
Another bid to come?
Despite its repeated failure to clinch the Games, it appears Paris is preparing to risk a fourth rejection by bidding for the 2024 Olympics.
That year will mark the 100th anniversary of the French capital's last Games.
Denis Masseglia, president of France’s National Sporting and Olympic Committee, (CNOSF) estimates the minimum cost of staging the 2024 games would be €7 billion, but as London showed that could rise significantly.
“We would not be able to make a bid like we did in 2012. Everything would have to be changed,” Masseglia said.
Before launching a formal bid, Masseglia is waiting for the results of a report by independent experts into why France lost out on the 2012 Olympics and the 2018 Winter Olympics.
If the current economic climate shows no signs of improving soon, many Parisians may hope the report dissuades the French authorities from launching another bid.