Paris 2024 announces the opening after two Olympic Games behind closed doors

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Paris Games organizers on Monday approved a plan to hold the opening ceremony of the 2024 Summer Games in the middle of the city rather than a stadium, an unusual and symbolic shift towards openness and accessibility after what should be two back-to-back Olympics. largely closed to the public.

Paris 2024, the organizing committee for the next Summer Games, said it plans to send more than 10,000 Olympians down the Seine in a parade of some 160 boats instead of having a traditional march through the stadium Olympic. The trip would end at the Eiffel Tower and the celebration would take place in a plaza across the river from the monument.

“We wanted to imagine a new path and a new model,” said Tony Estanguet, three-time Olympic gold medalist in canoe-slalom who is leading the Paris organizing effort, in an interview ahead of the announcement. “For France, it was so important for the future of the Games to have this model.”

The announcement, less than two months before Olympic organizers in China hold an opening ceremony closed to foreign visitors, appeared to be an effort to signal bright prospects for the Games after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the Games Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will open on February 4 in Beijing, and the Paralympics will follow on March 4.

But the timing also highlighted France’s efforts to have it both ways at the Beijing Games: with the organizers of Paris 2024 (and the International Olympic Committee) promising a rosy future at the same time, the French government, as the IOC, has resisted calls to criticize China over human rights concerns.

After earlier criticism of its actions in Tibet and Hong Kong and its crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, China has recently faced calls to boycott the Games over its treatment of the tennis player. Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian who has largely disappeared from public view since he accused a former senior Communist Party official of sexual assault.

Unlike a handful of Western countries that have announced diplomatic boycotts to protest China’s human rights record, the French government has chosen not to announce a similar rejection of the Olympics in February.

Estanguet, who plans to attend the Olympics in February to observe, learn and meet with international sports officials, said he was personally opposed to any kind of boycott or effort that could put athletes at the heart of geopolitics . He said it was not for him to comment on China’s treatment of Peng, calling it a complex issue.

“Why are you asking sport to be responsible for these kinds of problems? ” he said.

In arguing that sport and politics should not intermingle, Estanguet’s views mirror those of the IOC, which has been criticized for years for its reluctance to challenge China, a major partner in the Olympic movement. Beijing hosted the Summer Games in 2008 and invested billions to host the 2022 Winter Games after several European candidates withdrew from the competition.

The Biden administration and the governments of several other Western democracies have announced in recent weeks that they will not send any government officials, something governments traditionally do as a sign of respect for the host country, to Beijing. The diplomatic boycott does not extend to American athletes, who will participate as planned.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said administration officials did not think it was appropriate to send a delegation amid what he called “genocide and crimes against humanity “perpetrated by the Chinese government.

“We will not be contributing to the Games fanfare,” Psaki said.

Canada, Britain and Australia have said they will join the diplomatic boycott. Lithuania also said it will not send a diplomatic delegation. But France, in particular, has not done the same.

On Thursday, Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, said the country would not be part of the boycott, arguing that sport should be separated from political interference. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was less categorical, calling instead for a joint response from the European Union on the issue, which discussed it Monday at a meeting of foreign diplomats.

For the IOC, the Beijing Games will be the second Olympic Games in seven months to be marred by calls not to organize the competition. In July and August, Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics amid rising rates of coronavirus infection, and as opinion polls have consistently shown more than 80% of Japanese citizens want Games be postponed or canceled. Almost all the competitions were held without domestic fans and foreign visitors.

China has not specified how many fans will be allowed to attend the competitions, but no international spectators will be allowed.

Estanguet and other Parisian organizers offer another Olympic story. He spoke of hosting the most accessible Olympics ever in 2024, with half a million people able to witness the parade of boats during the opening ceremony. (He said several law enforcement agencies and the French military would provide security at the event, a sprawling and extensive procession that raises serious safety concerns for fans and athletes.)

In another proposed opening effort, Estanguet said thousands of runners would be allowed to run the Olympic marathon after the Olympians start, in what’s called the Marathon Pour Tous, or Marathon pour Tous. In addition, competitions will take place all over Paris on some of the city’s monuments.

He said his organization needed to announce its plan for the opening ceremony now in order to build support and start planning for it.

“We need big celebrations and big moments for people all over the world to be able to celebrate,” he said.


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