“Sport had to distance itself from politics.” Never has the wish of Stanislav Pozdniakov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, seemed so out of place. The politician declared this Friday, September 15 that his country ruled out any idea of boycotting the Paris 2024 Olympic Games: each athlete will be able to choose to participate under a neutral banner or not. A clarification that was long overdue, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended last March the reintegration of Russian and Belarusian athletes into international competitions, under a neutral banner and on an individual basis, and only for those who do not did not actively support the offensive in Ukraine. Because, make no mistake, the 2024 Olympic Games have since their infancy taken on the profile of a political arena, right there, in the heart of Paris.
It has been this way since the first games of the modern era, and all those that followed, from the instrumentalization of the event by Nazi Germany in 1936 to those torn between the hemispheres of a world bipolar during the Cold War. The Paris Games will take place under the auspices of the war in Ukraine, and the French president recalled his side: “Obviously, there cannot be a Russian flag at the Paris Games,” said the head of state. in an interview with L’Equipe at the beginning of September. “Russia as a country has no place at a time when it has committed war crimes, where it is deporting children.” A choice that Stanislav Pozdniakov judges to be “prohibitive by nature” but against which he knows there is little force for protest.
On the international scene, Russia is not the only diplomatic issue, since France must for its part puff out its chest and laboriously re-inflate its softpower after months of protests against the pension reform, dissected in the international press, and the the indelible organizational failure of the Champions League final in 2022. Proof of this is the ecological scandal of the Beijing games in 2020, and the double human and environmental scandal of the Football World Cup in Doha last year, that no one wanted to forget. “Let it shine!” : France wants to restore the halo of the city of lights, which has faded, and regain its influence on the international scene.
The destiny of the country is intrinsically linked to that of its president. “Emmanuel Macron will be practically mid-term,” the researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research and Cevipof Bruno Cauvrai already recalled in 2022 for Le Monde. “Everyone, then, will seek to identify his successor. A successful Olympics would be a breath of fresh air for him; on a theme, international, where he is rather comfortable.” On July 19, an Olympic and Paralympic Council (COP) was held at the Elysée to take stock of the preparations. The opportunity to recall the “5,000 fields” plan launched in 2021 by the Head of State to support as many local sports facilities in the territory, or the creation of a commemorative 2 euro coin.
The executive and the Paris town hall each take responsibility for the organization of the games. For the mayor of the capital, these Games are an unexpected opportunity to bounce back, after the humiliation of the 2022 presidential campaign and its fall in favorable opinions. In July on BFMTV, she was already pleased with the accomplishment of certain city projects thanks to the Games. “Thanks to the Games, I would have been able to do in five years what I would have taken fifteen or twenty years to do, for example clean the Seine so that it is swimmable. And in 2025 there will be three pools, we will swim in the Seine !” An optimism that makes a minister questioned by Libération cringe, who confides that the President finds that the town hall appropriates the swimmability of the Seine far too much. However, both town hall and executive remain on the banks of the basin, while a test event for the Olympics had to be canceled this summer, due to poor results of river water analyses. The Seine, which has made mayors and presidents fantasize for years, still refuses swimming.
And what about the omnipresent Minister of the Interior? The one who played his game all summer, making speeches and traveling, no doubt to console his disappointed hopes of reaching Matignon during the July reshuffle? Pointed out by everyone after the final fiasco of the Champions League last year, the minister is expected to turn the corner on security issues. The Olympics, “it’s a lose-lose game for him,” analyzed communicator Gaspard Gantzer, former advisor to François Hollande, for Le Monde in 2022. “He’s the one who has the most to lose. If that happens. Well, no one will congratulate Gérald Darmanin. The laurels will go to Emmanuel Macron and Anne Hidalgo.” In the event of a problem, however, “many of them will fall on him”. Moreover, “if the Olympics are successful, there will be a dimension of accomplishment for Anne Hidalgo as much as for Emmanuel Macron. But, otherwise, it will be failure for everyone,” warned Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy of the socialist mayor of Paris. Some would say that this is the game of politics: blame, but never laurels.