A Jilted Paris Has Pined for the Olympics, but the Long Wait May End in 2024


“I heard and learned a lot from the previous bids that anything can happen in the last minute,” he said. “We are still two candidates; there are still the same rules, so don’t count on me to be relaxed. I haven’t seen any paper that will tell me that I will get the Games in Paris in ’24, so I want to remain focused on this objective.”

But surely not even Paris can flub this one. Not with the I.O.C. executive board set to decide on Friday in Switzerland whether it will make an exception and allow the I.O.C. members to select the 2024 and 2028 host cities at the same time. Not with Los Angeles, the only other bidder, dropping hints that it could be persuaded to accept I.O.C. concessions in exchange for waiting four more years for 2028.

Could the I.O.C. really jilt Paris again? Or even make it settle for second dibs after a bid from a country whose new president is hardly winning any international popularity contests?

Photo

Tony Estanguet, who is leading Paris’s 2024 Olympic bid, taking a selfie with the bidding team.

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Franck Fife/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Estanguet was not taking that bait, either. In the wake of President Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, Estanguet was asked by a reporter, who did not expressly mention Trump, if a country with what he labeled blatant disregard for the environment should be allowed to host the Olympic Games.

“I see your question,” Estanguet said, which really meant, “I see your trap.”

“I don’t want to comment anything about Trump,” Estanguet said. “What I can tell you is that I think the I.O.C. needs to get a sustainable Games at the moment. This is really important. Personally, I think that’s part of the credibility of the whole system, and not only during the Games time.”

The Los Angeles bid is, of course, making big commitments of its own to sustainability, and the truth is that the I.O.C., which has gotten so much wrong in recent years, is lucky — very lucky — to have two bids of this quality.

Now it appears the I.O.C. will find a way to avoid choosing at all. This kind of goal-post shifting in a bidding process is far from ideal. Imagine how many other candidates might have thrown their hats into the rings if it had been clear from the start that the I.O.C. was going to award 2024 and 2028 simultaneously?

But at this existential moment for the I.O.C. — with cities and citizenries questioning the value of the Olympic project — it looks to be the right call to go with two close-to-sure things and regroup.

Estanguet and Paris continue to insist in public that they are interested only in 2024, but Estanguet also made it clear on Monday — 100 days before the scheduled I.O.C. vote in Lima, Peru — that he has no problem with the dual-award concept.

“There is no doubt it makes sense at the moment for the I.O.C. to look at this situation and see if it’s possible to have a double award,” he said. “But at the same time, we remain on the same line. We keep on pushing the same line, saying our project has been built for ’24.”

This is clever campaigning. Paris, according to Estanguet, has “95 percent” of its Olympic venues already built, lacking only the aquatics center and the Olympic Village. He said that the land for the athletes’ village has been set aside only until the vote in Lima in September. But if Paris were offered 2028 and only 2028, one suspects that its mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, would find a way to make it all work.

Paris has been waiting much longer than Los Angeles, which last staged the Olympics in 1984. Paris hosted the Games in 1900 and 1924, which would make 2024 a centennial celebration, even if that is hardly a persuasive argument on its own.

The plan is for Roland Garros to stage both tennis and boxing in 2024, with the boxing under a temporary, or perhaps even permanent, roof in Suzanne Lenglen Court, the second biggest arena in the complex. There has been boxing at Roland Garros before; the French star Marcel Cerdan defeated the American Holman Williams there in a makeshift ring in 1946.

But the tournament site, built in 1928, has never been an Olympic venue. “It’s important to our bid because it’s a well-recognized place internationally,” Estanguet said.

Familiar backdrops are a big part of the Paris bid’s appeal: beach volleyball on the Champ-de-Mars below the Eiffel Tower; equestrian events at the Château de Versailles; fencing and taekwondo in the Grand Palais.

London had similarly iconic tools, but it also had a better, sexier plan than Paris for 2012. Chastened and curious, Estanguet, a three-time Olympic champion in white-water canoeing, paid a visit with a Paris delegation to London in 2013 to meet with the chairman of those Olympics, Sebastian Coe, and his team.

It was part of the process of learning from past mistakes. Estanguet said that insiders have told him that Paris’s 2012 bid had too many politicians in the forefront and not enough athletes, and that the bid was also too inwardly focused on France rather than the issues facing the Olympic movement as a whole.

Just 39, Estanguet, the same age as Macron, is part of the new French look, and if Paris does secure the 2024 Games, it already has been announced that he will be the head of the organizing committee.

Despite past shivers, he had best get ready.

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