Sport must be kept neutral: Paris Games chief on Russian, Belarusian athletes

By Antonio Torres del Cerro

Saint-Denis, France, April 15 (EFE).- Neutrality in sport must be kept, the president of the organizing committee of the Paris 2023 Olympic Games, Tony Estanguet told Efe in an interview.

The French canoeist and three-time Olympic champion spoke to Efe about the challenges of organizing a major sporting event and the controversy surrounding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Q. The first phase of ticket sales, launched in March, was a success, with sales of 3.25 million (one-third of the total tickets that will go on sale). How will the second round which starts on May 11 work?

A. Everyone has until April 20 to register on the platform ( to enjoy this second phase of sales. The first one was very successful, with more than three million tickets (sold) in a few weeks, and now we are going to put tickets on sale again for all sports.

Q. In the first phase there was criticism and complaints about the prices.

A. It is important to understand that there are two objectives. The first is that they are accessible to everyone, and that is why we have very affordable fares: 1 million tickets at 24 euros ($26), and 4 million tickets at 50 euros and less. And we have a second objective, to balance the budget. So there are also fees that can go up to very high prices because the Organizing Committee must be 96% financed with private money. Basically, the rates are the same as in the last games, if you take inflation into account.

Q. Although that decision rests with the IOC, are you for or against the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympic Games?

A. I, in a personal capacity, and I have already spoken about it publicly, believe in the power of sport, which is universal, I believe that sport has that power to unite, (a space) where cultures from across the world coexist, in the Olympic Games town, in the stadiums, where politics is not discussed. I am in favor of that, preserving the neutral element of the sport. I think we need it, but it is not up to me to decide which delegations will come. My role is not to give an opinion on what is decided, it is to guarantee to the more than 200 countries, depending on whether the Russians come or not, that they are well received and that security is up to par.

Q. The opening ceremony will take place in the middle of the Seine River. What are the main challenges?

A. We want spectacular games, so the ceremony needs to be spectacular. We want them to be popular, which means there have to be more people. Hosting the ceremony in the city increases the number of spectators, who will be able to, for the first time, attend the ceremony in some cases for free. We are also going to use a decor that already exists, which is the center of Paris: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, the Eiffel Tower, the Trocadero, the most beautiful bridges in Paris, and the Grand Palais.

Q. How much security will be deployed on July 26, 2024?

A. We do not negotiate with security, the necessary number of agents will be deployed to guarantee security.

Q. The image of France was damaged by the security problems of the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in May 2022 in Saint-Denis, does that put more pressure on you?

A. The match everyone is talking about was organized at the last minute. It was not going to be held in France, but in Russia, and, because of the war, it changed location, so it was a bit of an organization at the last moment. Paris 2024 has been going on for three years now, soon to be four, of work and analysis on the security of the Games.

Q. Has the wave of strikes and protests in France against pension reform affected the rhythm of the works of the Olympic Games?

R. There has been no impact, despite Covid, despite the strikes, there has been no impact on the preparation and construction of the infrastructure.

Q. The Court of Auditors published a report in January raising doubts about the progress of the Budget, which was updated to 4.4 billion euros at the end of 2022 to account for a 10% inflation hike.

A. It is important to highlight that, to date, no fault has been detected and the decisions adopted have respected the ethical and good governance framework, and this is highlighted in the report. What the Court is talking about in that report is future risks.EFE


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