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Paris Olympics 2024: Locals ask if they’re worth the trouble

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Image source, AFP

Are Parisians falling out of love with their own Olympic Games?

That conclusion might seem inescapable after a series of bad news stories over the last couple of weeks.

First the city’s own Mayor Anne Hidalgo said out of the blue that transport for next summer’s Games would “not be ready in time”.

Then it was announced that far from buses and metros being free for competition ticket-holders – as promised in the Paris bid for the Games – fares will actually double for the six weeks of the Olympics and Paralympics.

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The police chief revealed that his security plan comprises no less than four separate exclusion zones around each Olympic venue – prompting the head of the hoteliers’ union to say it was “so complicated I get a headache just looking at it”.

And an Odoxa opinion poll showed that nearly one in two Françiliens – inhabitants of the Paris region – now thought the Games were a “bad thing”. The 44% negative rating was double what it was in 2021.

The same poll found that 52% of Françiliens were considering leaving Paris for the duration of the Games. “Perceptions about the Games are reaching alert level,” Odoxa reported.

And that’s not even counting the row with 230 quayside booksellers or bouquinistes – self-proclaimed guardians of historic Paris – who are resisting attempts to dismantle their boxes for the 26 July opening ceremony.

Booksellers on the Seine

Image source, Nurphoto

Certainly it is not hard these days to find Parisians quite happy to curse the Games and all that comes with them.

“On the morning of June 9 I’m voting in the European elections then I’m out of here till September,” says Evelyne, 65, encountered by the Place de la Concorde (scene of several events including break-dancing, or as the French felicitously put it, le breaking).

“Paris will be unbearable,” she adds. “Impossible to park; impossible to move around; impossible to do anything. Madame Hidalgo has wrecked Paris, and I want no part of the Games.”

“How long is it before the police chief simply asks us Parisians to leave the city?” another inhabitant asked on social media.

Of course in any normal year Paris in July and August is already forsaken by a large part of its population, who prefer their second homes in the country or on the coast – that’s why the city seems so pleasantly empty to visitors.

But summer 2024 promises more of a clear-out than ever, not least because of the tempting deals being offered on Airbnb and other platforms. Rentals during the Games are up to four times normal rates, and it is hard to find a Parisian who is not at least considering the windfall.

There was always a solid corpus of French people who opposed the Games on the left-wing grounds that they are a colossal waste of money and serve mainly the interests of the multinationals.

To them are now added all those who believe they will also be a monumental inconvenience.

So should the organisers be worried? Probably not. Most of the concerns are either exaggerated or easily resolved. And what Games ever took place without mega-jitters in the months ahead?

Take transport. Mayor Hidalgo certainly set Olympic hearts racing with her dire warnings about lack of preparation.

But context is all. The mayor is in political difficulty. She is also the sworn enemy of both the sports minister and the (conservative) head of the Ile-de-France region, who has responsibility for suburban rail.

As one unnamed Olympic source told Le Parisien newspaper this week: “Anne Hidalgo has always wanted these to be her Games. But it’s not her role, nor does she have the budget. So she spends her time sending off these barbs.”

So yes, there are worries about whether the extensions to RER E and Metro line 14 (both parts of the 20-year Greater Paris project) will be ready on time. But even if they are not, it will not be the end of the world.

Construction on Paris Metro line 14

Image source, AFP

“This will be – as promised – the first time in the history of the Games that people will be able to go to all the events on public transport,” insists the Ile-de-France transport authority.

The transport ticket price controversy is also unlikely to turn Parisians off the Games – not least because the millions of Parisians who have monthly or yearly passes will be unaffected. The cost of all those extra Olympic buses and trains will be borne mainly by visitors – and who cares about them?

The multiple police perimeters and all the bureaucratic procedures for exemptions are admittedly complicated (and so French!) and people will have to get their heads around them. But they got their heads around the gilets jaunes (yellow-vest) protests and the Covid restrictions, so it’s hard to believe they won’t manage this time.

And as for the bouquinistes, their argument that the real aim of the authorities is to get rid of them is simply not believable. The bookish antiquarians may be held in public affection, but they are not going to stop the Olympics’ first ever fluvial overture.

No, it is hard not to agree with the veteran French athlete and IOC member Guy Drut when he says: “Believe me, the nearer we get to the actual Games, the more of these rows there are going to be.”

So expect more moaning from Parisians in the months ahead. And then, a cracking Games.

Additional reporting by Matthias Colboc

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