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Tony Estanguet wants to talk about how the next Olympic Games, in Paris in 2024, will be a paradigm-shifting moment for an event that has come under fire for becoming too bloated, too costly, too onerous for the citizens of the places where the quadrennial sporting jamboree lands.

Estanguet wants to talk about sustainability plans, how 95% of the venues are already built and how measures are in place to ensure the budget of €7.5 billion ($8.8 billion) for the Games will not balloon when the event nears, as Olympic budgets have a tendency to do.

But all of that has to wait. The first task for Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organizing committee, is to figure out how to plan an event for which preparations are likely to be affected by a pandemic now well into its second year. Estanguet brought dozens of staff members to Japan to shadow organizers of the Tokyo Games — perhaps the most complicated, strangest Olympics in history — and to learn how to take a layered plan years in the making and rewrite it on the fly.

“Nobody knows what will happen with this pandemic,” said Estanguet, a three-time Olympic champion in canoe slalom, “so we have to be ready for any kind of scenario.”

At the Tokyo Games, he and his colleagues have visited stadiums and arenas where some of the world’s finest athletes have performed without spectators. He has met with some officials to discuss the finer points of biosecurity, and then sat down with others to learn about the successes — and failures — of bubble environments.

“The learnings of here is that it’s feasible to organize the Games even with this kind of situation,” Estanguet said. “So we are here to learn.”

Estanguet said the Paris officials would remain in Tokyo for further talks after the Games end Sunday, and then do the same sort of shadowing program with organizers of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where restrictions on movement and health protocols are likely to be even more stringent than they have been in Tokyo.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organizing committee, as they attend a judo competition during the Tokyo Olympics at the Nippon Budokan in the Japanese capital on July 24. | AFP-JIJI
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organizing committee, as they attend a judo competition during the Tokyo Olympics at the Nippon Budokan in the Japanese capital on July 24. | AFP-JIJI

Yet Estanguet remains hopeful that the coronavirus pandemic will be something for the history books by the time the Summer Games arrive in France.

“We will look at all the measures they put in place here, but we are still working on our Plan A,” he said. “I want my team first to be at the best level with Plan A.”

That plan is firmly underway. A sponsorship target of €1 billion has just passed the halfway mark, and the keen interest of both France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has already helped clear administrative hurdles.

Macron, known to be a sports fan, was a visible presence for the first part of the Tokyo Games, hopping from venue to venue. Hidalgo will be Paris’ representative at the closing ceremony.

“We rely on our ability to have all of them really engaged,” Estanguet said.

Estanguet pointed out that the government had adopted a strategy — built around the Olympics — that for the first time requires every primary school in France to set aside 30 minutes a day for physical activity. That, Estanguet said, was an example of the benefits of the Games, already in place three years before the opening ceremony.

Such legacies have been promised by hosts before, of course, only to fizzle out not long after the Olympic flame goes dark. Instead, the Games have often been followed by recriminations over costs and stories of expensive venues fallen into disuse. Estanguet refused to predict whether Paris would meet its own set of lofty promises, but said the conditions were in place to do so.

“I can tell you that we have control of our budget every year from the public authorities, and so far we are still running with the same budget,” he said. “So I will not guarantee you, but everything is put in place for this new model.”

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