National

Paris organizers confident they can avoid Tokyo's Olympic mess

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

The head of Paris’ bid for the 2024 Olympics has branded Tokyo’s original 2020 Games proposal “a fairy tale” and believes the French capital can avoid the kind of after-the-fact revisions bogging down Japan’s organizers.

Paris is competing with Los Angeles and Budapest for the right to host the 2024 Games, with a decision set to be taken in Lima on Sept. 13, 2017.

Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games in 2013 after presenting a bid that promised to keep most of the competition venues within 8 km of the athletes’ village. But organizers have since relocated several venues outside the city in a bid to cut skyrocketing costs.

The International Olympic Committee introduced its Agenda 2020 reform plan — which encourages host cities to save money by using existing and temporary facilities — after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games. Paris 2024 CEO Etienne Thobois believes the Tokyo Olympics would be untenable without it.

“I think Tokyo tried to win the games at a time when Agenda 2020 was more or less not there,” Thobois, who worked as a consultant on the Tokyo 2020 bid, told The Japan Times last week in Tokyo, where he attended the IOC’s three-day debriefing session on the Rio Olympics. “So you were trying to build some kind of a fairy tale.

“That concept that everything was within 8 km was leaning into a lot of constructions, and venues that turned out not to be needed. In our case it’s very different. So the delivery model is definitely very different and I don’t think you can compare the two situations.”

The Tokyo 2020 organizers, who last week set a budget ceiling of ¥2 trillion, have moved several events outside the capital to neighboring prefectures and even contemplated shifting the rowing and sprint canoe competitions hundreds of kilometers away to the city of Tome, Miyagi Prefecture.

IOC President Thomas Bach told an audience at the Rio 2016 debriefing that future Olympic hosts must be given the same flexibility.

“We know now with the race for 2024 that without Agenda 2020 we would have had no candidates for ’24,” Bach said via a video link-up from Switzerland. “Agenda 2020 in this respect came at the right time and has proved to be very successful, ensuring a great race for 2024.

“On the other hand, the lesson is — as Tokyo is really demonstrating — that future organizers can already benefit from the reforms of Agenda 2020, even if their original project was devised before.”

Paris is bidding to host the Olympics for the third time and the first in a century, having previously staged the games in 1900 and 1924. The French capital failed with bids in 1992, 2008 and 2012, but Thobois believes this time will be different.

“There are many reasons,” he said. “In Paris it is the fourth time we have bid. Over time, we have had the ability to reflect on why we wanted to host the games and also what will be our games plan. We want to host the games with passion and purpose, and we believe that we have a lot of assets.

“We have 95 percent of our venues existing. Transport-wise, we have the best public transport in the world. We have 140,000 hotel rooms in Paris, not to mention alternative solutions — we are the No. 1 inventory for Airbnb today.

“It’s a guarantee of a fantastic celebration too. We have the city center with fantastic venues around the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, in the Grand Palais, which basically guarantees a fantastic celebration. We believe the games that made history lately were games where the city center could also breathe the games.”

Paris is bidding to host the Olympics at a time when many cities around the world are balking at the prospect. Hamburg and Rome both withdrew their bids for 2024 amid public opposition, while Boston also declined to compete.

“Every city is different,” said Thobois, who also served as the managing director of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. “In Paris, public authorities have invested in infrastructure and also sports infrastructure for decades. That’s why we are allowed to have 95 of the venues that are existing or temporary. We don’t have a lot to invest.

“We are only building what is necessary and what is long-term, and that is very much aligned with the needs of the city. It’s a small investment. We are talking about $3 billion for the games, infrastructure-wise, which is very modest. Potentially we have that great public support because there is no waste in the way we are approaching this.”

One possible stumbling block for Paris’ bid is terrorism. France has suffered several terrorist attacks in recent years, but Thobois points to this year’s hosting of the soccer European Championship and the annual Tour de France cycling race as evidence of its ability to deal with the threat.

“It’s a big issue for everybody,” he said. “Terrorism has struck in Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, the States, France, Belgium — it’s almost everywhere. We were hit big-time by that and we had to react. And we did.

“Euro 2016 was delivered without any incident. We had a fan zone in Paris that welcomed 1.2 million fans without any incident. We delivered the Tour de France again. It’s 3,000 km of road to secure throughout a whole month, and we did that successfully. I’m not saying that you are immune from that kind of threat. But maybe we have developed processes and capacities to deal with it.”