French gloom clouds Paris Olympics, six months from start


Paris 2024 organisers remain confident that sights such as beach volleyball in front of the Eiffel Tower, swimming in the river Seine, or the marathon through the capital’s fabled streets will lift spirits once the flame is light on Jul 26.

They make a distinction between the often noisy and attention-seeking media and political debate and wider public opinion.

A survey by the Odoxa group for RTL radio in November suggested that 65 per cent of French people were in favour of the Games – a fall of 11 points in two years but still a large majority with positive views.

In the Paris region, slightly more than half of people were in favour.

Organisers also point to the orderly preparations, as well as their budget restraint in comparison with other modern editions.

Most of the sporting infrastructure is finished. The athletes’ village is almost ready to be furnished. Crucial metro and train line extensions will be ready in time, they insist.

“What if everything went ok?” asked a headline in the left-wing Liberation newspaper at the start of the year.

“France is ready for the Olympics … but given the country’s gloomy mood and its unpopular leaders, there is no sign of popular fervour,” it added.

Tony Estanguet, the head of the Paris organising committee, has criticised “Olympics bashing” in the media and the former canoeing champion despaired of his compatriots’ tendency to look on the downside.

“We like to look at what is not going well, focus on things that are out of place, concentrate on our weak spots, whereas some countries like to play up their qualities and strengths,” he told France Inter radio this month.


Jennifer Minner, an academic at US-based Cornell University who studies major international events, says grouchy locals are a frequent feature of the build-up.

“I’ve found that pessimism is not unusual immediately prior to the staging of a ‘mega-event’, especially when the realities of hosting become more apparent,” she told AFP.

Performance anxiety is also natural for every Olympic Games host as it prepares to showcase the best of itself to the rest of the planet.

Surveys show French people are most nervous about a security problem, particularly at the spectacular opening ceremony being planned on the river Seine.

“It’s possible that once the Games are underway if everything goes well, people get into the spirit of the Games,” added Moreau Chevrolet.

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