POSTED: August 5th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Paris 2024 Olympic bid learned its lessons from London

NEIL WILSON in RIO DE JANEIRO / Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Eleven years ago in Singapore the Paris team bidding to host the 2012 Games gave a press conference. Standing on a stage were  a dozen selling their city to the IOC, all white, all but one male, all similarly suited and almost all there representing different political groupings, the city, the region, the state, even the local trade unions. Not a Paralympian among them

They were supremely confident to the point of arrogance. This was Paris's Games, they believed. Was Paris not the city at whose university Pierre de Coubertin launched the idea of an Olympic revival. And it would be all but 12 years short of a century since Paris last hosted the festival of sport. Our turn said everything about their bid. We are owed was the message.

Two days later they were shattered by defeat to Les Anglais, to London, by four votes. As the front page of the French sports newspaper L'Equipe screamed in a banner headline the next morning: "Pourquoi Londres?" Why London?

The answer came slowly to the French. They had mis-read the IOC. They do not want to hear what the Olympic movement can do for a city but what candidate cities can do for the Olympics. Where is the return?

 London's team, led by Sebastian Coe, a double Olympic champion, supported by Denise Lewis, a black Olympic champion, and David Beckham, perhaps the world's most popular footballer, was sports-led. It said nothing of its right to the Games, of the debt for rescuing the Movement by hosting the first post-War Games of 1948. It spoke only of the legacy that a London Games offered to the Olympic movement.

For ten years the French absorbed the lessons. They did not come back to bid again for 2016 or 2020 but, advised in their bid by the London bid's former head of communications Michael Lee, now the supreme Olympic bid lobbyist, they judged the moment right for 2024 after Games in South America and Asia.

Yesterday they gave their first press conference at these Games.  Half as many on the platform, two of them women and one, Teddy Rinner, an Olympic judo champion defending in Rio, who is black.  A wheelchair athlete was there in the auditorium's front row.

 "We have learned, improved our plans, increased our investment," said Etienne Thobois, the CEO but a badminton Olympian himself in Atlanta. "We have come back better and stronger."

There leading was the president of France, Francois Hollande. "When you have had a failure, even by just a few votes, you have to draw conclusions, make improvements, whatever London and Rio's bid have taught us."

Certainly Hollande had learned one big lesson. He had had a private meeting with IOC president, he admitted, but about its content he would say only: "I asked for advice. That's always the best way, not telling a person what is good about your own bid."

Thobois said the most important lesson from defeat by London was that a future bid had to be sport-led and supported by a nation, not just a city. So Paris has an athletes commission advising on every aspect and most notably in their plans on the location and construction of the Athletes Village. But then this time the bid team is heavily sport-led, from Thobois to co-chairman Tony Estanquet, a three-time Olympic canoe gold medallist.

The pillars of the Paris bid are its spectacular and iconic settings for sport, from the Eiffel Tower to the Palace of Verseilles, the use of sport to create a legacy from mental health to social inclusion, and the existence of its facilities, 95% existing or temporary.

Paris's Achilles heel, brought out by the questions at the press conference, is the security problems revealed by recent terrorist attacks throughout France and in particular in its capital city. "No city can believe they are safe," said Hollande but pointed out its security worked for the monthlong European football championships this summer. "We have learned to protect ourselves in organizing major events."    

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · NEIL WILSON · Olympics · Paris 2024

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