The 2024 Olympics seen from France

The Paris Olympics are set to open on the 26th of July 2024, and last a little over two weeks, with the Paralympics running from August 28th to September 8th. Coming back to the French capital exactly one century after their last occurrence, these Olympics have already attracted their fair share of polemic. Accumulating controversies and complications, the Games are not off to a good start.

The Olympics are certainly President Macron’s most symbolic project undertaken during his term. Announced only months after his election in 2017, the Olympics have been central to Macron’s terms, with the post of “Olympics Game Minister” being especially created for the occasion, and have fuelled widespread criticisms from his opponents and allies alike.

The Games are part of Macron’s broader political project to restore France’s international prestige, with lavish state visits in Versailles, the reconstruction of Notre Dame in less than five years, an increased presence on the international stage, and many other political stratagems.

Pricey Passes

The Olympics Committee prided itself on making the Olympic Games accessible to all, with prices starting at 24€ (~£20). It would be fantastic if that were the case, but aspiring spectators (and myself!) got a shock when the online ticketing system opened.

The first price approached 700€ (~£600) for athletics, 500€ (~£430) for swimming, 480€ (~£410) for gymnastics, fencing and judo. Not to mention the minimum price of 2,700€ (~£2,300) to attend the opening ceremony on the Seine. Especially given the current cost of living crisis and rampant inflation in France, how can anyone deem these prices “accessible”?

The committee defended that there had been “millions” of 24€ tickets sold, but they were almost all for unpopular Olympic events – early stages and heats, sports with little to no following, practically inaccessible stadiums, etc. – and they sold out almost instantly. 

The ticketing system worked on a random draw, meaning that customers only had access to a random selection of events (including all sports, locations, and stages) with only 10-20 options to choose from, leaving many unsatisfied (including myself, I refused to pay hundreds of euros for a round of 32 of BMX hours away from my house).

Social Struggle

The Olympics seemed to be targeting a rich international audience, and that to the detriment of local residents. Over 2,000 rooms of student accommodation have for instance been requisitioned by the government to host workers during the Games. In France, this state-owned student accommodation is only available to students on bursaries who cannot afford private accommodation – this requisition disadvantages the most precarious. 

Affected students have been offered in return 100€ (~£85) and 2 first-price tickets to an Olympic event in Paris (while simultaneously being kicked out of their accommodation in the capital). Students will not have access to their accommodation for a little under 3 weeks – for information, private accommodation in Paris usually costs around 40€ (~£35) a night.

Accumulating controversies and complications, the games are not off to a good start

Local charities and organisations have expressed fear of “social cleansing” before the Olympics, with systematic removal of homeless people from public spaces and the shutting down of emergency shelters. Evictions of homeless people have skyrocketed in the past year, with increased police intervention.

In the meantime, police officers have secured an exceptional bonus of over 2,900€ (~£2,500) for 16 days of work during the Olympic games, which represents a little over one month’s salary. In comparison, during Covid, health workers mobilised for several months in a row had only received €985 (~£840).

Transport Turmoil

Using public transport in Paris is already usually a rip-off, but the Olympic Games are only going to make it worse. Going from 1€90 (~£1.60) last year to 2€10 (~£1.80) now, a single metro ticket in central Paris, which wouldn’t even allow people to travel to the majority of sport stadiums which are located in the suburbs, will cost a whopping 4€ (~£3.40) during the games. 

This may not seem like much – after all these prices are fairly comparable to a Tube ticket in London or even a single bus fare in Oxford – until you realise how much visitors will have to rely on the service, and how poor that service is. 

The Paris metro is old (many of the trains date back to the 70s and 80s), and is a nightmare to navigate as a non-local. Even worse, the Metro doesn’t leave central Paris – to go to the suburbs, where all but one sport stadiums are located, visitors will have to take the RER – Paris’s much-hated suburban train. This service has been neglected by authorities, even though it is indispensable for its 3 million daily users. 

Trains are systematically cancelled or delayed, often by hours, and are consistently filled to the brim, operating dangerously over capacity, leading to queues sometimes extending outside the platform and station and onto the street, with passengers having to wait hours to access their commute. The infrastructure can barely cope with every-day travel, how will it survive tens of thousands of tourists all going to the same sporting event?

What was meant to be a moment of cohesion has become a symptom of class conflict…

Closing Considerations

The Olympics are facing increasing criticism and controversies, and the ones listed above only scratch the surface. An average hotel or AirBnb night in Paris during the period will set you back on average 1,033€ (~£880). The opening ceremony, happening on the river Seine, will have all the free viewpoints on bridges completely blocked off without paid entry. The Games cost upwards of 8 billion euros (7 billion pounds), largely funded by private companies with ties to Russia, Qatar, the fossil fuel industry, and many others. 

The Paralympic games, boasting their inclusivity, are taking place in a city where accessibility can be described at best as mediocre: out of 309 metro stations, only 21 are accessible. The Paralympics, usually taking place 1-2 weeks after the Olympics, will be held in Paris over one month later, making it virtually impossible for international visitors to attend both events. 

The 2024 Olympics were a good idea for France, and very welcome by the French public, but their implementation is certainly one of the worst in modern Olympic history. It is at best doubtful that infrastructure will be ready in time, and the Games will certainly happen in deteriorated conditions. What was meant to be a moment of cohesion for a country and the world has become a symptom of class conflict and what is now called in France “the Games of the Rich” (“Les Jeux des Riches”).

Image credit: Paris 2024 by nicolas michaud, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, cropped from original.

Image description: Olympics rings in front of the Eiffel Tower.