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Organising the Olympics is Truly a Team Sport

Paris 2024 aims to make the Games accessible and sustainable, and to reduce the carbon footprint of previous Olympics by half. The legacy project focuses on developing Seine-Saint-Denis and enhancing sport’s role in addressing societal challenges across France

Much has already been written about the Paris Olympics. As we count down to the 2024 Summer Games, branded as ‘Paris 2024’ and set to take place from 26th July to 11th August, we’ve decided to focus on the Olympics’ impact on the social fabric of society. Paris will be the main host city, with events also taking place in 16 other cities across Metropolitan France and one subsite in Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Our interview with Paris 2024 CEO Etienne Thobois focuses primarily on the potential impact of the Olympics on Seine-Saint-Denis, one of Paris’s departments. Seine-Saint-Denis is the youngest, fastest-growing and poorest department in France, and its inhabitants are set to benefit from the economic opportunities likely to be brought by the Games.

While each event is unique, the philosophy behind the Paris Olympics— focused on supporting equality, sustainability, and efficiency—can serve as a model of modern thinking for Serbia’s organisers of Expo 2027.

The French government was determined to ensure this year’s Summer Olympics would be green, inclusive and socially beneficial. Could you please introduce us to this aspect of Paris 2024, before we immerse ourselves in the sports, winners and medals?

— From the bid phase, we had a clear objective – shared by all Paris 2024 stakeholders – to organise Games of a new era, which would be both spectacular and useful, responding to the challenges of our changing world.

The starting point is our plan for the Games to use 95% existing and temporary infrastructure. Those temporary venues, set among some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, are central to our Paris 2024 concept. When we talk about ’Games Wide Open’, it’s this idea of taking sport out of its traditional spaces and bringing it to the heart of the city and our communities, notably with the first-ever Opening Ceremonies to be held outside of stadium, where more than 220,000 people will have the opportunity to attend for free, and with the first-ever mass participation events in the context of an Olympic and Paralympic Games.

So, it’s about bringing the Games closer to the people, for everyone to be able to share in the experience, but it’s also about aligning them more with the needs and expectations of modern society. Our low-build venue plan supports our commitment to cut the carbon footprint of the Games in half compared to the average of London 2012 and Rio 2016. It also means that our Olympic Legacy project differs from what we’ve seen elsewhere, with a very targeted physical legacy, focused on the host department of Seine-Saint-Denis, which is the youngest, fastest-growing and poorest in France. Our only two major construction projects both respond to very specific needs of the local area, and will contribute powerfully to its ongoing social and economic development.

Alongside this, we have a wider project to drive positive impacts throughout France by strengthening the place of sport in our society and as a tool to address today’s biggest societal challenges. One good example is our ’30 Minutes’ initiative, which has been adopted by 91% of French primary schools and sees children now doing 30 minutes of sport or physical activity every day, in addition to their PE les econsons. This is a type of legacy that did not need to wait for the Games, and we’ve benefitted from close and early collaboration with government and social institutions to amplify our impact.

With 800 sporting events, 15,000 athletes, 45,000 volunteers and 13 million meals, maintaining sustainability throughout the Olympic Games is undeniably challenging. What innovations are you most proud of?

— Our actions in this area are all geared towards doing better with less. As we have said, it starts with using 95% temporary or existing infrastructure, but there are many examples of innovation across all aspects of our operations.

When it comes to venue development, for example, we are renting materials instead of buying them new – and we are guaranteeing a second life for every piece of equipment used, whether it’s a mattress in the Athletes’ Village or a seat in a temporary stand.

Very significantly, we are connecting every venue, including temporary venues, to the electricity grid in order to reduce our reliance on carbon-intensive diesel generators, both during the Games and for events in the future. Every Olympic venue is also guaranteed to be powered 100% by renewable energy thanks to a unique (in the context of the Games) power purchase agreement.

We want to bring the Games and the public closer together. At the Opening Ceremony down the River Seine, more than 220,000 people will enjoy free access on the upper banks

We could also include the example of catering, where we are doubling the amount of plant-based food on offer to athletes and spectators across our venues compared to previous Games, with 80% of all produce used coming from French sources. This will equate to 50% carbon reduction per meal.

And something that definitely makes us proud is the way we have engaged our whole ecosystem in this effort to make the Games an accelerator of bold sustainability objectives. One example is the work of the City of Paris and State authorities to clean up the River Seine and make it swimmable for the first time in 100 years. We could also talk about Coca- Cola, which is investing significantly in the accelerated roll-out of drinks fountains – representing a big factor in our effort to halve the amount of single-use plastic used in food and beverage service.

Olympic Games are often seen as having been a great hit or a miss, mostly in economic terms. What are your recipes for converting green investments, i.e., costs, into profit generating machines?

— As an Organising Committee, we are not aiming to turn a profit. We’ve been clear from the start regarding our objective to maintain a balanced budget, and we are on track to achieve that.

It’s a matter of some pride, because the global macroeconomic conditions of the past seven years have not made things easy. We’ve maintained a rigorous focus on cost optimisation throughout, which has helped us keep budget increases below the overall rate of inflation across the lifetime of the project. Today, the Organising Committee budget stands at 4.4 billion euros and is 96% privately financed.

The SOLIDEO budget for Games-related, long-term investment is also 4.4 billion euros, 1.7 billion of which is publicly funded, with the remaining 60% coming from private developers. The strategy from the outset was to invest only in new infrastructure where there was a clear and proven long-term need, with 80% of all the public money spent on the Games focused on the fast-growing Seine-Saint- Denis department.

Specifically, as the site of the Athletes’ Village and Media Village Cluster, this department will benefit in legacy from 4,000 much-needed new homes, built to the highest standards of accessibility and eco-design, 25 per cent of which will be dedicated social housing. A further third will be rented as affordable housing for students and key workers.

Alongside this, the new Olympic Aquatics Centre in Saint-Denis is the centrepiece of a major legacy project targeting an unacceptable reality whereby 60% of children across the Seine-Saint-Denis department currently leave primary school (at age 11) unable to swim.

Overall, the Games project will leave a legacy of 20 new community swimming pools across the department. In addition to the four pools of the Olympic Aquatics Centre, these include 12 new pools spread across three training venues for the Games, and four temporary pools used for the swimming competitions at Paris La Défense Arena, which will be permanently relocated to locations in Seine-Saint-Denis after the Games.

The residents and businesses of these areas are also on the frontline to benefit from the economic opportunities of the Games, which are estimated at up to 11.1 billion euros across the Paris region, according to a recently updated forecast by France’s CDES, using new methodology developed with the OECD.

What strategies are being implemented by organisers of the Games and their strategic partners in order to utilise Paris 2024 as a catalyst to develop the economy, reduce inequality and promote employment?

— Many actions have been undertaken by Paris 2024 and SOLIDEO, our delivery partner, to guarantee that the five billion euros of Games-related contracts awarded benefit the entire economic fabric, placing a special emphasis on the small and social business sector.

On the Paris 2024 side alone, 2.7 billion euros of contracts have been awarded, with 79% of contractors and suppliers being small or medium- sized businesses. They include 304 social enterprises.

Our ’30 Minutes’ initiative has been adopted by 91% of French primary schools and now sees children doing 30 minutes of sport or physical activity every day

Likewise, we have placed a major focus on ensuring the jobs boost of the Games benefits those furthest away from employment, and does so in a sustainable way, working with government and social institutions to deploy innovative solutions such as the very popular programme of sportsbased job dating sessions.

In total, 181,000 people will work directly on the Games – and in sectors offering long-term employment opportunities such as construction and tourism. On Games infrastructure projects, 2,935,357 hours of work have been completed in the context of social (re)integration schemes – 120% of the target set for SOLIDEO.

In today’s polarised world, when a larger number of participants are anticipated than was the case a century ago, when Paris last hosted the Summer Olympics, how complicated is it to ensure the safety and security of all participants and spectators?

— From the very beginning, security has been the condition on which our whole plan is based. We want these Games to be open to as many people as possible; we want them to be open to the city on a scale we’ve never seen before. But we are very clear: these ambitions can only be delivered if the security conditions are met.

That’s something we knew from the start. Before confirming the plans for the Opening Ceremony, for example, we carried out extensive feasibility studies with our partners in the State security services, considering every type of threat. We continue to work daily in coordination with the highest levels of the French State security and intelligence services.

Our confidence is based on this work, and based on France’s expertise in delivering festive major events, even in challenging security contexts. We could give the example of Euro 2016, held just a few months after the Paris attacks, which saw thousands of people celebrating together in city-centre fan zones. Indeed, since 2015, risks of a terrorist nature have been systematically built into the design of all security measures in France. This has been the case for Paris 2024.

The Games will see the biggest ever security operation for an event in France. An unprecedented 35,000 state security personnel will be mobilised every day of the Games and the Opening Ceremony will see more than 45,000 State security personnel deployed across central Paris, including specialist air and river forces – in addition to the Games private security force.

Everything is in place for visitors to enjoy a wonderful, safe and oncein- a-lifetime celebration.

How will Paris celebrate sport and innovate the Olympic Games as a sporting arena?

— The experience of the Games for spectators will be like no other. Paris itself will transform into an Olympic Park as the epicentre of an incredible party, extending nationwide throughout France. The Olympic Torch Relay is already giving a taste of the spectacle and the public enthusiasm to join the celebration this summer.

We are introducing a number of innovations, each designed to bring the Games and the public closer together.

So, we have this unique Opening Ceremony down the River Seine, with more than 220,000 people enjoying free access on the upper banks.

We have sporting competitions staged among iconic landmarks, in the very heart of the city, on a scale never before seen.

We have the first-ever Games mass participation event, the Marathon Pour Tous, which will see 40,000 members of the public run the same route, on the same day, as Olympic competitors.

And we also have the first-ever Champions Park, a free-access celebration venue at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, with 120,000 people gathering daily to honour and party with Games medallists.

We are hoping that each of these concepts will leave its mark on the history of the Games.

Finally, what can Belgrade, which is investing a lot in the upcoming Expo 2027 event, learn from your model?

— It is early for us to be giving advice. For now, we are staying humble and focused on delivering our Games.

One key lesson learned on our side is the importance of setting a clear vision for your project – and with a high enough level of ambition to galvanise and bring together behind it all the key public and private stakeholders, as well the public. That’s because organising a major event is truly a team sport.

We certainly believe that our lowbuild model, with its very targeted legacy investments and rigorous focus on cutting carbon emissions, can serve as a blueprint for the future. But every Games, every event and every host city offers something different and you need to know how to play to your own strengths.


We want these Games to be open to as many people as possible on a scale we’ve never seen before. But we are very clear: these ambitions can only be delivered if the security conditions are met


The residents and businesses of Seine- Saint-Denis, which is the youngest, fastestgrowing and poorest department in France, are on the frontline to benefit from the economic opportunities of the Games


The starting point is our Games plan to use 95% existing and temporary infrastructure. Those temporary venues, set among some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, are central to our Paris 2024 concept