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The good, the bad and the ugly of Paris Olympics bid

© Franck Fife, AFP | Co-presidents of the Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics: Bernard Lapasset (right), Tony Estanguet (centre) and the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo in Paris, on May 16, 2017.

Text by Louise NORDSTROM

Latest update : 2017-06-10

Paris, along with Los Angeles, is now within arm’s reach of winning its bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. But putting the French capital in the sporting spotlight could come at a heavy cost. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the pros and cons.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended Friday that hosting rights for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics be awarded together, virtually assuring that rival bidders Paris and Los Angeles will both host the Games.

For Paris, hosting the 2024 Olympics is symbolically important. Not only is it the French capital’s fourth bid (previous, but unsuccessful, attempts were made to host the 1992, 2008 and 2012 games), but it will also mark 100 years since the city hosted the modern Games the last time.

"This is the fourth bid by Paris and we believe it is now or never. This is the last chance to see Paris bidding for the Games. Afterwards, I think Paris and France will do different things," three-times Olympic canoeing champion and Paris bid co-chairman Tony Estanguet told the Reuters news agency earlier this year.

For France, whose tourism numbers have shrunk after a string of major terror attacks since the beginning of 2015, the chance to host the global sporting event is an opportunity to show the world a lighter, vibrant side of Paris, resilient to the recent horrors it has been targeted by.

“When everyone in the world is facing security risks, Paris is a city where public safety services provide the highest level of protection,” the Socialist Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said in February as Paris submitted its official bid to the IOC.

The event will also allow the city to push forward a theme – in this case the environment – showcasing France’s efforts in the fight against climate change.

“Paris is a resilient city which knows how to overcome these challenges, and we are also building a city of the future. We’re proud to be a world leader in environment issues and sustainable development. Climate change is the greatest challenge of this century,” Hidalgo said in her speech.

“[The Games] will bring us all together, unite us and make us move forward,” she said.

With the president’s blessing

The Paris bid has already received strong backing from France’s new President Emmanuel Macron, who just hours after his May inauguration told Hidalgo that the bid stimulates the kind of national optimism he hopes to generate during his four-year mandate.

But the games are about much more than just sports, however. In a 2016 report published by consulting firm Aperian Global, the month-long event is seen as big business, with revenues expected to be generated from TV broadcasting rights, worldwide marketing, sponsorship, ticketing, the hospitality industry and other sources.

But a growing number of experts are now questioning the benefits – and the profitability – of hosting the Olympics, saying the pre-game calculations are often removed from the post-game reality.

“It is a magnificent, lavish party, and should be regarded as such. It has no virtue other than people enjoying themselves. It has no further function,” Tom Jenkins, the London-based CEO of The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) told FRANCE 24.

Jenkins said that although the games are marketed as a way to drive up tourism numbers, increase employment and give a boost to a city’s infrastructure – both before and after – they seldom turn out to fulfill that promise.

“The number of people attending these events is always exaggerated,” he said. “What you have to remember is that those coming are the athletes themselves, along with their immediate entourage, Games officials, the press and some international sport fans. Amounting to about 30,000 to 40,000 people. It's not more.”

“They haven’t come to visit the Louvre Museum, or the Eiffel Tower or to do wine-tasting tours. And they don’t spend a lot of money,” he said, adding that hosting the Games can actually negatively affect a city’s tourism revenues as the regular tourism flows are cleared out to make space for the visitors attending the games.

‘White elephants’

In terms of the potential infrastructure development projects that could be in store, Jenkins said it is a huge gamble, pointing to what is known as “white elephants”, or costly Olympic Games venues that are left abandoned, without being put to further use, shortly after the event is over.

“Most of the venues built for the [2004] Athens and [1992] Barcelona Olympic Games are left rotting,” Jenkins said.

According to the report by Aperian Global, the Olympics in Barcelona produced nearly 90 percent of the city’s decrease in unemployment. But after the Games that year, Barcelona’s unemployment rose by 21,000 people.

When bidding for the 2024 Olympic Games began, there was a total of eight contenders, including also Rome and Budapest. But one city after another then dropped out, citing either a lack of local support to host the Games or the high costs involved.

To remedy the problem of a decreasing number of candidates, the IOC launched Agenda 2020 three years ago, a set of recommendations encouraging bidding cities to promote the use of existing facilities and infrastructure in order to make hosting the Games more affordable.

In line with those recommendations, Paris has so far vowed that more than 95 percent of the proposed venues are already in place, saying all that is left to build is a pool and a new Olympic village in the Seine-Saint-Denis neighbourhood. In other words, there will be no “white elephants”.

But Jenkins is still skeptical about the potential benefits Paris could reap from hosting the event.

“I think the billions of euros spent on hosting this event would be better spent on marketing and reassurance."

“But to be fair, I can’t see a better place to host such a lavish party than in Paris.”

Date created : 2017-06-09

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