Is fractious France ready for an Olympics party in less than 100 days?

Even as the Olympic flame was lit thousand miles away in Greece on Tuesday, those involved in the delivery of the Games, particularly chief organiser Tony Estanguet, remain upbeat, encouraging their countryfolk to look on the bright side.
Olympic Flame lighting ceremony in
Olympia, Greece on Tuesday
Olympic Flame lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece on Tuesday Photo | AFP

PARIS: Organisers of the Paris Olympics have promised a “great national party” for the country, but with 100 days to go, France’s bitter politics and gloomy mindset are dampening the mood.

Even as the Olympic flame was lit thousand miles away in Greece on Tuesday, those involved in the delivery of the Games, particularly chief organiser Tony Estanguet, remain upbeat, encouraging their countryfolk to look on the bright side.

“It’s my role to explain that it’s a fantastic opportunity for our country to host this event, to welcome the world and also showcase what this country is about to do and deliver,” he told reporters last Wednesday. He said he wasn’t surprised to hear complaints and doubts.

“We all know that before this kind of big event, there are always many questions, many concerns,” he said. The construction work is on track and the budget looks set to be relatively contained compared to the huge blow-outs seen at the previous events.

French President Emmanuel Macron cut a slightly frustrated figure as he inaugurated a new aquatics centre in early April, speaking as if the public and media were not giving organisers the credit they deserved. “Take a bit of perspective and look at the history of previous Games,” he urged reporters, promising the Paris edition would make them “proud”.

On the defensive

Instead of pride, the build-up has been marred by rows that go to the heart of a bitter national debate about identity and race. Influential far-right politicians have criticised the official Games poster — a Christian cross was omitted from a depiction of a Paris landmark — as well as the choice of artists for the Opening Ceremony on July 26.

The prospect of an appearance by Franco-Malian R&B superstar Aya Nakamura caused an uproar among conservatives who criticised her supposed “vulgarity” — something described as “pure racism” by France’s culture minister.

Herve Le Bras, a veteran sociologist, said he was sceptical that the Olympics could serve as a moment of national celebration. “Instead, there are lots of suggestions that they will underline the major fractures in France,” he said.

Why does the country feel so bad about itself while being among the richest in the world, with one of the most generous social security systems, and a lifestyle that is envied across the globe? A major survey by the Ipsos group last September found eight out of 10 people thought the country was in decline and nearly one in two said they felt angry and contrarian.

In another era -- during the decades of bullish post-war expansion in France, for example -- the country might have been more ready to celebrate the Olympics, Le Bras suggests.

Jean Viard, another well-known sociologist, believes that the risk of terrorism and wars in Europe and the Middle East are weighing on people’s minds. The Olympics are also taking place at a time where the rising cost of living is causing economic hardship, making the often high ticket prices for events hard to stomach.

Other concerns include the fast-rising public debt -- just as new estimates emerge suggesting that taxpayers could end up with an Olympics bill of up to five billion euros ($5.4 billion).

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com