JAMAICA Olympic Association (JOA) Secretary General Ryan Foster says he is confident organisers will resolve Paris’s social issues ahead of the Olympic Games next summer.
Political, social, logistical, and public health issues are some of the major concerns for Paris, which hosts the Olympics from July 26 to August 11 next year.
“The owner of the Games is the IOC [International Olympic Committee],” Foster told the Jamaica Observer recently. “It has representatives within, supporting the LOC [Local Organising Committee], which is the French. They have enough experience to ensure that the French are meeting certain performance criteria to ensure that the Games is successful.”
One concern is that of transportation and street accessibility because of public safety during the Games. Political tensions, both in France and globally, have raised questions about the threat of terror during the Games, especially as there were terror attacks at the Olympics at the Munich Games and Atlanta Games in 1972 and 1996, respectively.
The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has warned that the public transport system may not be ready in time for the Games. Commuters have complained about inconsistency in the transport schedules, and overcrowded and unclean transportation hubs.
“We still have problems in daily transport issues and we are still not reaching the comfort and punctuality needed for Parisians,” Hidalgo said while appearing on French television recently. “There are places where the transport will not be ready and there will not be enough trains.”
Foster says the Tokyo Olympics should serve as a lesson to LOCs of follow-up Games. The Tokyo Games was postponed by 12 months from July 2020 and was staged in that city during a lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“The IOC is ultimately the main stakeholder of the Games,” he said, “so I’m not so much concerned as to ensuring accountability of the LOC from the IOC because they’re very stringent in terms of ensuring that the facilities are ready. The infrastructure, the food, transportation, logistics, and all of those things are going to be ready.
“France being such a large metropolitan country should help as well. During the pandemic many of these countries outside of Japan had their pandemic issues in terms of resolving and curtailing the spread of the virus. Some countries have a blueprint on how to go about it but I don’t think there was a blueprint on COVID-19.”
Another recent issue was a bedbug infestation in the city in October. It had stakeholders worried about the risk to public health if it had not been controlled in time for the Olympic Games. Foster said, then, that the timing of it gave organisers enough room to resolve the issue ahead of the Games.
“The French had indicated that they’re working on eradicating those issues before the Games,” Foster said in October. “They had identified it nine months out so I think that gives them enough time to kill those bugs. But, it’s something that we’re watching. We’re in constant dialogue with the LOC to ensure that these issues are resolved before our athletes and the delegation go to the Games. It’s not of concern now, especially since the problem has been identified so early out, but it’s something that we’re watching.
“Someone else asked me about it recently and I said, ‘Thank God it’s not snakes! That could kill you.’ “
Concern about bedbugs remains as sightings of the pests in London, England, and Yaoundé, Cameroon, have led health officials in both countries to question whether the pests are now migrating from France.
France has had security concerns of its own in recent years. In one incident a tourist was stabbed to death near the Eiffel Tower in Paris earlier this month, allegedly by a man who French police say had been under surveillance for suspected Islamic radicalisation.
If the allegation proves true it would not be the first terror attack on the city related to Islamic extremism. A series of coordinated militant attacks by Islamic State terrorists took place between November 13 and 14, 2015 in Paris, France, and in the city’s northern suburb of Saint-Denis during a football match between France and Germany. A total of 130 people died in those attacks.
Riots due to poverty and racial discrimination have occurred in France this year.
Political tensions between Russia and Ukraine — a war that started in early 2022 — and recent violence between Israel and Palestine have also added to these safety concerns as the Olympic Games have been seen by some as an ideal global platform for making political statements.
“We are trying to make the invisible risk visible,” Paris Police Inspector General Bernard Bobrowska told the Associated Press recently. “We are ready!”
In response, the Paris Games’ Local Organising Committee (LOC) is considering a security lockdown in Paris near its river, the Seine, where the opening ceremony will take place. Paris will be the first Olympic host to stage an opening ceremony outside of its Olympic Stadium, and organisers have planned for athletes to sail down the river on barges during the ceremony.
Up to 400,000 spectators are expected to line the upper quays of the Seine during the ceremony, which will be free to attend.
It is reported that Parisians living in this area will have to register online to have guests watch the opening ceremony from their windows and balconies, and also present QR codes to access their streets.
“All risks, including the terrorist risk, have been taken into account,” Bobrowska said. “District police, riot police, and officers in civilian clothes patrol the sector to create a mesh of police of all types at all moments, a dissuasive presence ready for action.”
A total 40,000 police officers are expected to be deployed at the opening ceremony, and 30,000 will be dispatched throughout different zones of the city daily during the Games.
Officers from other European countries, who visit the French capital regularly, are regarded as reinforcements for the Games.