Another city dropped their bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The IOC will make their final selection on September 13th.
USA TODAY Sports
PARIS – Visitors to Paris know it as the “City of Love,” and locals refer to it as the “City of Light.” Yet there is a shadow descending over this majestic capital in the form of an election that has divided France and spawned the possibility of a contentious, far-right national leadership.
It is amid this backdrop that Paris is hoping to secure the right to host the 2024 Olympics, with a head-to-head fight against Los Angeles due to be decided by an International Olympic Committee vote in September.
Right now though, it is another fierce showdown that has captivated Paris.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is seeking to produce the latest electoral upset by beating independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. It is the topic of seemingly every conversation, from the tourist hordes surrounding the L’Arc de Triomphe to the chic cafes of the 16th arrondissement.
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“(But) it hasn’t changed anything with the bid,” Tony Estanguet, co-chairman of Paris 2024, told USA TODAY Sports. “We knew along the journey of the bid we’d have different elections.
“We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.”
When Hamburg, Rome and Budapest withdrew from the race, it left behind two heavyweight bids both seeking to land the Games for the third time. Paris is the bookies’ favorite, having promoted a friendly, open and forward-thinking approach. But such things can quickly turn, especially with the IOC’s evaluation committee due to visit both sites this month.
The committee, of course, will also find a heated political environment in the U.S. following Donald Trump moving into the Oval Office in January. President Trump’s message of nationalism is in many ways shared by Le Pen.
A former lawyer, she is fiercely anti-immigration and was leader of the right-wing populist National Front party for six years before stepping down in an attempt to gain more widespread support ahead of the second and final election round on Sunday.
Le Pen has given tacit support to a Paris Games, but reacted furiously that the bid’s motto – “Made For Sharing” – is in English and not French.
“It bothers me and makes me angry,” Le Pen wrote recently.
Will either president’s policy stances or public comments impact the Olympic bids?
Well, Vladimir Putin’s Russia secured the 2014 Winter Olympics, and China’s Communist regime hosted the 2008 Summer Games and will have the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Chicago, backed by Barack Obama, finished last out of four bidders in the 2016 race won by Rio de Janeiro.
Estanguet would not be drawn into whether he would prefer Macron or Le Pen to win the election, but he has made a point to spout values that are directly opposite to those of Le Pen.
“The values, the respect, the friendship, the excellence (of sports) is so strong,” Estanguet said. “Our society needs those values. This is the strength of our project. We are ready to engage French society around those values because we need to (lift) up people. We need to stand behind with each other.
“We have to live together and share these positive moments, and sport is one of the best movements. You can share emotions. As an athlete or spectator, you share something special, something strong. France defends those values, so we really want to play our role for people.”
Le Pen’s father, Jean Marie Le Pen, was one of the most divisive politicians in French history, famous for repeated inflammatory comments appearing to question whether the Holocaust really happened plus other anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant statements.
If she wins the election, Marine Le Pen has vowed to close immigration, withdraw France from the European Union and ditch the Euro to restore the franc as national currency.
“Marine Le Pen benefits from two things: the long efforts of her father to … accommodate his radical anti-immigration ideas into mainstream public debate, and a socio-economic situation that has never truly improved over the years,” said Cecile Alduy, a Stanford professor who wrote a book about Le Pen’s political tactics.
“She attracts an electorate frustrated with the alternation of right and left governing parties that leaves them in the same dire situation. And she offers a simple narrative to explain all the ills of the world: globalization (embodied by the European Union ) and the influx of foreign goods and peoples are responsible for France’s problems.”
Le Pen is the underdog against Macron but has chipped away at the gap in polls. Just as voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, Le Pen enjoys little support in Paris, the bulk of her backing coming from rural areas.
“I think the Olympics here would have a lot of support,” an office manager, Phillippe Santana, 30, said. “But these are nervous times at the moment. We don’t know what the future will hold for our country.”
Both bids are highly compelling, iconic cities with outstanding facilities and existing infrastructure.
After months of speculation and the IOC discussing changes to the candidature process, it would not be out of the question for the IOC to decide to award one city the 2024 Olympics and another 2028.
Paris has had four failed bids and was stunned by London during the 2012 vote after appearing to have led for most of the bidding period. It feels this is its time, having previously staged in 1900 and 1924, with the 100th anniversary factor providing a strong emotional pull.
The Paris effort has largely been led by former athletes, and Estanguet, a three-time gold medal winning canoeist, does a slick job of navigating the political obstacle course that has been foisted into his path. Whatever he says, or doesn’t say, there is no doubt that a Le Pen defeat would make his job a little easier, and possibly dent Los Angeles’ chances.
“We have all the assets and all the strengths to win,” he added. “I don’t see why we should not win. That’s why I’m very confident and very passionate about this journey, but I also know in the past when I was an athlete, when you feel physically and technically stronger, you can make a mistake and lose the battle. We have all the assets to win. It’s up to us to not do any idiotic mistake.”