As 2024 Paris Olympics near, familiar controversies linger

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said he views the 2024 Paris Olympics as the beginning of "a new era of Olympic and Paralympic Games."

But unfortunately for organizers, some of the issues that have clouded the runup to Paris are all too familiar.

With exactly one year to go until the next Summer Olympics, which will begin with a majestic opening ceremony along the Seine River, the concerns ahead of these Games are strikingly similar to those which surrounded their predecessors. Over the past several months, there have been questions over security, ticketing procedures and the budget. A corruption probe, with allegations of favoritism in how contracts were awarded. And the seemingly ever-present elephant in the room: Russia, whose athletes might still be able to compete as neutrals even as their country continues the war in Ukraine.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, author of "The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach," said the familiar themes ahead of Paris are not all that surprising. She noted that allegations of corruption, for example, have become part and parcel of the Olympics.

"(It's) a repeat of a pattern we’ve seen for decades, really," said Lenskyj, who is also a professor emerita at the University of Toronto.

"With the huge amount of money that’s involved in terms of hosting … there’s always those sorts of cracks in the armor."

Another corruption probe

The Paris Olympics are, on the one hand, being touted as a much-needed return to normalcy − the first Games since 2018 to be held without debilitating COVID-19 restrictions. There will be fans in the stadiums again, athletes mingling without restrictions in the Olympic village and watch parties for residents across the city.

Bach has trumpeted the Paris Games as admirably urban, sustainable and the first to feature gender parity, with equal numbers of quota spots allocated to men and women. He also said they will serve as "a blueprint" for future versions of the Olympics, and an inspiration for other major sporting events.

The 2024 Paris Olympics will be held from July 26-Aug. 11.
The 2024 Paris Olympics will be held from July 26-Aug. 11.

In other ways, however, Paris has felt like other Olympics, struggling with the same old issues and controversies.

Like the two most recent iterations of the Summer Olympics, the Paris Games have been the subject of a corruption probe. French authorities raided Paris 2024 headquarters last month and have opened two preliminary investigations into the organizing committee, including one that dates to 2017. The financial prosecutor's office in France has since said it is examining the alleged embezzlement of public funds, as well as claims of favoritism regarding an unspecified Games contract or contracts.

Paris 2024 pledged to fully cooperate with authorities, while attempting to downplay similarities to Olympic corruption scandals in 2016, which featured allegations of vote-buying leading up to Rio de Janeiro, and 2021, which involved claims of bid-rigging and sponsor collusion in Tokyo.

"Today, there are no reprehensible facts on the table," Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet told The Associated Press in an interview late last month. "You can’t accuse Paris 2024 of being on the same level as what happened (in other Games). There’s no comparison. But what I do know today is that we have no knowledge of any irregular, prohibited or illicit acts."

A spokesperson with the financial prosecutor's office did not provide any updates on the investigations when contacted by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.

Security concerns

Like previous Games, Paris is also dealing with logistical concerns around areas such as ticketing and budget.

French residents have complained about the lack of tickets available at affordable prices, despite the organizing committee's pledge that it would sell 1 million tickets to the Games at $26 or cheaper. And inflation has helped nudge the overall budget for the Games past original estimates, to roughly $8.2 billion.

Security is the other glaring issue. Because the opening ceremony will consist of national delegations floating down the Seine River, it will effectively be open to the public, with room for an estimated 600,000 people to witness it from one place or another. In turn, however, French leaders have discussed deploying as many as 35,000 security staffers to monitor the area and control crowds. Estanguet has said Paris will be "the safest place in the world" on the day of the opening ceremony.

Paris is also employing a divisive type of video surveillance for the Games, after a French law was passed earlier this year to permit it. Artificial intelligence software will use footage from security cameras to detect suspicious or dangerous situations, such as crowd surges, and notify human operators, who can then coordinate a response.

While some view the new technology as a way to more effectively monitor large areas, others fear it could be used to easily abuse or target marginalized groups. Mher Hakobyan, an Amnesty International adviser on AI regulation, told The Associated Press that he fears it "will lead to an all-out assault on the rights to privacy, protest, and freedom of assembly and expression."

The Russia problem

Then, there are the thorny issues that organizers must navigate within the Games themselves, with Russia chief among them.

After investigators unearthed state-sponsored doping programs and schemes to cover them up, Russian athletes have not been permitted to represent their country at the Olympics since 2016, at least in a strict sense. In 2018, they competed as "Olympic athletes from Russia." And in both 2021 and 2022, they technically represented the Russian Olympic Committee, rather than the nation itself.

Now, as the war in Ukraine drags on, the IOC has outlined a way by which Russian − and Belarusian − athletes can return to international competition as neutral athletes, while repeatedly postponing its decision on whether they will be allowed to attend the Paris Olympics. The IOC's stance has enraged officials in Ukraine, who argue that Russian athletes should be totally banned from the Games. They have instructed Ukrainian athletes to avoid participating in Olympic qualification events if Russian athletes are also competing.

Ukraine's sports minister, Vadym Gutzeit, even wrote on social media in January that he would not rule out the possibility of an Olympic boycott, should Russian athletes be on hand in Paris.

It's the type of geopolitical backdrop that Olympic organizers, who claim to be apolitical, would love to avoid. But like corruption allegations and budget concerns, it's become all too common, a familiar backdrop as another edition of the Games nears.

Contributing: Associated Press

Contact Tom Schad at or on social media @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paris Olympics 2024: Security, Russia, corruption issues linger