The quiet voices saying 'no' to Paris’s Olympic bid
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The French capital has been turned into a giant Olympic park this weekend in an extravagant final push to win the 2024 Olympics bid. While not all Parisians are in favour of the Games, dissenting voices are few and far between.
Budapest decided to pull out of its bid for the Olympic Games because of a massive grassroots opposition movement to the games called “NOlimpia", which claimed the Games would push Hungary into huge financial debt. Boston ended its Olympic candidacy for similar reasons.
But opposition to the Games in Paris doesn’t seem to be deterring Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is spearheading the city’s glitzy campaign to win the Games (thus beating the other candidate, Los Angeles). Of the 20 arrondissements (districts) that make up Paris each of which has its own local government-- only one mayor, Jacques Boutault, refused to join the collective campaign for the bid back in March 2015. In recent months, Danielle Simonnet, a city councillor from Paris’s 20th arrondissement who belongs to Jean-Luc Mélenchon's far-left France Insoumise party, has been pushing for a referendum on the question to let Parisians decide.
This weekend, Hidalgo pulled out all the stops in a two-day extravaganza for World Olympic Day to show the world what Paris can do Divers plunged into the Seine and sprinters raced on a floating track. Yet the spectacle hasn’t convinced Frédéric Viale, a teacher and one of the organisers of a collective called “NO to the 2024 Paris Olympics” (NON aux JO 2024 à Paris), which has about 50 members.
“Mobilisation of the opposition is, admittedly, weak but we aren’t inaudible,” Viale told FRANCE 24. “We garnered 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on this question… and we didn’t even have any media coverage!”
The opposition's main complaint is the money the city would have to spend on organising the games. The city has drafted a provisional budget of 6.6 billion euros, a quarter of which would be public money. But Viale fears it would be much more.
“Budget overruns are inevitable you just have to look at the numbers from all of the previous Olympics,” Viale said.
Indeed, a report published in June 2016 showed that Brazil’s Olympic Games ran 51% over budget an overspend of about $1.6 billion.
“And all of that for 15 days of festivities,” Viale says. “We have nothing against sports or fun but we don’t want to sacrifice future generations by indebting ourselves for several decades.”
City councillor Simonnet points out that this money will not necessarily be used in ways that address residents' needs, citing an ongoing project to improve public transport to disenfranchised Parisian suburbs.
“Instead of improving transportation to low-income neighbourhoods… we will focus on creating a rapid link between the airport, the Olympic village and other large infrastructures,” Simonnet said in an interview with French daily Le Monde. “This doesn’t address the population's very serious needs.”
Viale also pointed out environmental concerns.
“Between the emissions from millions of people travelling and all of the concrete used in all of the new construction, these games will be far from environmentally friendly,” Viale said.
Viale is also angered by Hidalgo’s support for the games.
“When the mayor was elected, she was opposed to holding the Olympic Games in Paris,” he said. “Now she’s changed her tune. That’s a serious democratic issue.”
That is one reason that city councillor Simonnet is calling for a referendum on the issue, so as to let Parisians speak for themselves. But with the mayor and other powerful leaders going full steam ahead on the bid, the possibility of a referendum looks unlikely.
Viale says that he and his small coalition have to be realistic. Currently, they aren’t really a match for the moneyed performance that Hidalgo is putting on.
“We aren’t naïve, we know that there is a 99.9% likelihood that Paris will win it,” said Viale. “Unfortunately, we are in a phase when people are indifferent to the Olympics and their consequences. But we don’t think the battle is lost yet. We have seven years left to fight before 2024 and an opposition will form with time. Once the decision is made public, we’ll start organising our fight more seriously. It’s always hard to mobilise when the threat hasn’t actually been carried out. People wake up to it after the fact.”