On Sunday night during the Paralympic Games awarding ceremony, Tony Estanguet could be seen taking to a stage in Paris wearing a black polo shirt and stonewashed jeans. Full of energy and with a big smile, like a radio DJ or a Club 18-30 representative, he gathered a crowd without masks to prepare for the greatest experience of their lives: the Games were coming to France.
Estanguet is the president of the organizing committee for Paris 2024; His enthusiasm is understandable and the crowd around him a deliberate choice. At this point in the cycle, the possibility is limitless. It is when the next Olympic and Paralympic host can envision himself as the ultimate expression of those original values of ‘excellence, friendship and respect’. Reality starts to intrude later.
A former C1 slalom canoeist, Estanguet is the only French athlete to have won a gold medal in three Olympic Games. She is 43 but looks younger, which is probably helpful given the amount of stress she’s about to endure. His job over the next two years is to create two sets of games, one that has to deal with Covid and one that doesn’t, but it also has other issues to deal with, the first of which is legacy.
Estanguet has spent a lot of time studying London 2012 and came to the conclusion that Paris would do things differently, that the ambition to ‘inspire a generation’ to more physical activity in the UK had not worked. “We have had many meetings with executives from London,” he says. “I met Seb Coe several times over the past few years and we met in Tokyo this summer.
“It is not because you organize the games that there is an impact in the country. I think the difference is that we started earlier with [the legacy] Program. We have invested more means and more resources in this objective ”.
Paris 2024 has two initiatives underway that seek to engage the general public. The first is a school program, with an Olympic and Paralympic week that takes place once a year. Estanguet says that this program has reached 1 million schoolchildren. Then there’s Terre de Jeux, a decentralized, community-based program.
Communities have access to resources and activities such as the current ‘Ping Tour’, which features the elite table tennis program across the country. One thing they don’t get is funding though, as the 2024 Games will be paid for almost entirely by private sponsors.
“For the first time, it is not only the cities where the competitions will take place that can be part of the [Olympic and] Paralympic Games, they are all the cities of France ”, says Estanguet. “We started two years ago [and] We already have more than 2000 cities with this ‘Terre de Jeux’ label ”.
Public engagement is the animating vision, hence the crowds in Paris on delivery day. The motto for the success of his candidacy was “Paris 2024: made to share”. The Games logo, which has been no stranger to Internet mockery, tries to capture this idea by being a version of the Olympic flame and the face of a young woman with a short haircut.
Among the ideas developed to help encourage participation, Estanguet plans to make Paris 2024 the first Games to have a common standard that guarantees accessibility to venues and events for people with disabilities. You also have two key ideas for the competition. The first is to take the opening ceremonies of the Stade de France, the main venue, and take them to the streets. The second is to open some of the events so that, while participation is not shared directly between international athletes and the public, it is close.
“The idea is to move people,” says Estanguet. “We will transform the city of Paris into a great Olympic and Paralympic park. We don’t want them to come to the stadium, we want to transform their city into a sporting environment.
“We have the idea of the marathon open to the participation of the public. On the same day on the same road it will be open to thousands of people. The athletes will start at 9 and the public at 10. We will also do the same for the road cycling event ”.
Moving the opening ceremony out of the stadium “will change the scale, potentially having hundreds of thousands of people participating in this symbolic moment.”
That means that people can attend the Games. Estanguet says that Paris has conducted a review that has found 350 million euros (300 million pounds) in savings from a budget of 3.9 billion euros to create a Covid contingency fund. But even more difficult decisions may have to be made.
“On our schedule, we open ticket sales in mid-2023,” says Estanguet. “I’m not comfortable with advertising a ticketing program and then [rolling] come back later. We will examine the situation again at the end of 2022. If we are still in the same uncertainty, then we will have to start looking for different options.
Tokyo has shown that it is possible to host the Games in a pandemic, although that is not necessarily a lesson that no one wants to learn. “Merci, thanks to Tokyo 2020 for having been able to adapt, for finding solutions, even if it is not ideal,” says Estanguet. “We were able to watch the Games, we allowed the athletes to make their dreams come true, and with that, we put Covid aside a little bit for a few weeks.
“Tokyo has been a good learning curve for us in case we have to do the same. But I really hope it doesn’t have to be that way. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism