The Paris 2024 Olympics is shaping up to be a Games of firsts and superlatives, including a free opening ceremony from the banks of the Seine.
The innovation began at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics last year when, for the first time, rather than present the next venue from the stadium, the French did it live from Paris.
Paris 2024 will also be the first time the opening ceremony will not be held in a stadium.
600,000 can see opening ceremony for free
President of the Paris 2024 organising committee Tony Estanguet said: “More than 160 boats will carry the national teams 6km down the Seine from the Pont d’Austerlitz to Trocadéro, just across from the Eiffel Tower.
“We want to open the Games to everyone. We want to surprise the world.”
The three-time Olympic canoeing gold medallist said he expects 600,000 people to line the banks of the Seine.
“That is 10 times more than in a stadium and they will be able to watch it for free,” he said.
“More than a billion people around the world will watch the opening ceremony.”
Mr Estanguet said there are major commitments to the Games beyond simply celebrating sport.
One of the goals is to promote French cultural and architectural heritage.
Bringing sport out of the stadium
As such, many of the events will be held in museums and at national monuments – such as fencing in the Grand Palais, archery at Les Invalides, volleyball in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower at the Champ de Mars, or the Château de Versailles where the equestrian competitions are to be held.
The organising committee president added that Notre-Dame should be restored in time for the opening ceremony.
Sailing is scheduled for Marseille and surfing will be held in the French Pacific island of Tahiti, which, at 9,800 miles from Paris, is the furthest an Olympic event has ever been held from the host city.
Football will be played in stadiums around the country.
Bringing sport out of the stadium and into the city is a key aim of the Games, said the committee.
“We want to use the iconic symbols of Paris to host the events and that is the case for both the Olympic and Paralympic competitions.”
The plan also aligns with goals to reduce the environmental impact of the Games.
Olympic village to become social housing
“We do not believe in building sports venues just for a short competition time,” Mr Estanguet said.
He began a tour of venues in spring with the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome, which is also where several British teams will train during the summer of 2024.
Meanwhile, from the organising committee’s seven-storey headquarters in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, some 40 cranes can currently be seen erecting the Olympic village.
It is set to cover 50 hectares and straddle three towns in the Seine-Saint-Denis department.
The brand-new aquatic centre is also in the vicinity, just 400m from the Stade de France.
The Olympic Village will be handed over to social housing authorities after the Games.
There could be a maximum of 10,000 athletes from 206 countries in at least 329 medal events, and from 182 countries in the Paralympics.
However, “it is up to the IOC to decide who can and cannot take part”, Mr Estanguet said. Polls show organisers have the support of 80% of the population, especially as the public will not foot the cost.
“We are a private association, and we are financed by private money,” Mr Estanguet said.
They have set an operating budget at some €4billion, a third of which will be covered by partners and sponsors, a third by the IOC, and a third by ticket sales.
Public funds are allocated only for infrastructure, 95% of which has been built previously.
To ensure events are not simply the preserve of the rich, a million of the 13.4 million tickets will go on sale for a maximum of €24, and half the tickets will be sold for under €50.
Paris joins London as the only city to have hosted the Olympics three times. The last time it held the Games was in 1924.
“We have big ambitions for the Paralympics, which will be the first time Paris has hosted a Paralympic Games.”
Events will take place in the same venues as the Olympics.
“We want to tell the world that disability and inclusion are very important.
“For the first time in history,” Mr Estanguet added, “there will be the same number of male and female athletes in the competitions.”
This is the result of an equality deal worked out with the IOC. It is up to the different federations to make sure it happens.
Another first will be the mass participation marathon, which will give amateur athletes the chance to run in the footsteps of Olympic competitors.
Appeal to young people
Paris 2024 will also be the first time ‘breaking,’ a dance form derived from hip-hop, becomes an official event.
In other ideas to attract a younger audience, the organising committee has set up what it is calling a ‘Terre de Jeux’, in which more than 2,500 localities have committed to organise free events for youngsters over the next two years.
Olympic athletes will also participate.
The ambition is to get young people moving and exercising at a time when obesity and sedentariness are major health concerns.
Along with celebrating sport and getting the public involved, the committee is also fixed on its environmental legacy.
“Our goal is to halve the carbon footprint of London 2012, which is our reference,” it said.
Efforts begin with the Pulse Building, where the committee is located.
Members proudly show off chairs made from recycled yoghurt containers, tables crafted from leftover construction materials, and recycled carpeting, and the 2,500 employees are asked to use just one cup for drinks per day.
Security will also, inevitably, be a focus of the Games.
Olivier Lebeau, who formerly worked for the Police Judiciaire, a sort of French FBI, said: “The Olympics will be a security nightmare.”
Beyond securing the safety of the 12 million visitors expected, “police will have to filter who enters and leaves areas around the Olympic village, for example. Only residents and employees will be allowed in and out of certain zones”.
The organising committee is responsible for security at events.
For this, anywhere between 20,000 to 33,000 private security agents will be employed, “but it is public authorities who lead the way, and we will help pay, which is a big investment for us”, Mr Estanguet said.
The French domestic intelligence agency DGSI has set up a special Olympic Intelligence Centre to help coordinate police and security services.
Mr Estanguet said he and the public authorities are confident they can pull it off.
“Although security risks are still high,” he said, “they are not as high as in 2016 when Paris successfully hosted the Euro UEFA Championships.”
Mr Lebeau said: “One thing is sure. Nobody in the police will be going on holiday with the family in the summer of 2024.”