POSTED: November 11th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Will France throw its hat in the ring for the 2024 Olympics?

Paris certainly has a strong attraction for Olympic tourists / Bigstock
Paris certainly has a strong attraction for Olympic tourists / Bigstock

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Given it was a Frenchman, Baron de Coubertin, who revived the Olympics at the historic meeting in Paris in 1894, it may seem odd that no Summer Games have been held in his country since 1924, later to become celebrated as the ‘Chariots of Fire’ Olympics.

It is true that since 1924, there have been Winter Games in France on two occasions (1968 and 1992) but the Summer Games have been elusive. On three occasions, Paris has bid. In 1986, with Juan Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee President, seeking to have his home city of Barcelona get the 1992 Olympics, a mesmerising speech by Jacques Chirac, then the Mayor of Paris, nearly upset his ambitions. But Paris lost the vote and had to be content and compensated with hosting the Winter Games in Albertville.

In 2001, Beijing bid for 2008 and Paris was defeated in the first round. Then, in Singapore in 2005, Paris seemingly the favourite were outmanoeuvred by London for 2012 and the recriminations were considerable. The French felt badly let down, summed up by the front page headline in L’Equipe, the renowned daily sports newspaper, which had acted as cheerleader for the city. It read “Pourquoi Londres?”. Seven years later, it and everyone else found out why.

The French, bruised and sore after this experience, ultimately realised that their failure was really their own fault as they had too many grey-suited politicians and officials on parade, whereas Sebastian Coe, the leader of the London team, portrayed a much younger and more vibrant feel, accentuated by having youngsters from the U.K. capital as part of the party in Singapore.

Now they are weighing-up whether to try for 2024, when already there are formidable opponents in the field. It seems almost certain that there will be a bid from the United States and, if successful, it will have been the first time for nearly 30 years, since Atlanta in 1996, the country, which financially is the biggest financial supporter of the Olympic Movement, will have staged the Summer Games. Four cities, Los Angeles, which held the Games in 1932 and 1984, Boston, San Francisco and Washington are the front-runners.

Other possible opposition includes Germany, where Hamburg is possibly favourite, Rome, St.Petersburg, Istanbul, a perennial candidate, and Baku in Azerbaijan, which is hosting the 2015 European Games.

Last week, Francois Hollande, the beleaguered French President, announced his support for a Paris bid in an interview broadcast on France 2, saying that with Paris already attempting to host the 2025 World’s Fair, a Paris bid for the Games would make the city “the cultural capital of the world”, words that he must have hoped would raise him a notch or two in his dismal opinion poll ratings.

However, Anne Hidalgo, a fellow socialist and Mayor of Paris, followed up her president’s declaration with a far more guarded response, saying that she intended to study the proposals and then make a decision in January.

The question is whether Paris can afford not to bid, even if it does not get the Games. Should a U.S. city be awarded them for 2024, then Paris would be in an even stronger position for 2028, when they almost certainly would be staged in Europe, given that in 2016, they are in Brazil and 2020 in Japan.

 The IOC has certainly mended its differences with the United States Olympic Committee but as an organisation, it is rarely predictable.  Its members might prefer that the 2024 Games are in Europe, in which case, Paris would be a strong contender.  If Paris does not bid and the 2024 goes to a European city, then the chances of the French capital getting the Games before the 2030s at the earliest would be negligible.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.     

Keywords · John Goodbody · Paris · Olympic bidding · 2024 Games

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