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Olympics 2024: is Paris ready to party?

 Paris.
Paris.

The lighting of the Olympic torch today comes amid a "dampening" of enthusiasm for the Paris Games in an increasingly "fractious" France, commentators warn.

"We're ready for this final straight," said Paris Olympics chief organiser Tony Estanguet at a press conference to mark the 100-day countdown. But the French capital's "often hard-to-please residents appear in no mood for a party yet", said France 24.

'Security threats' and 'faecal' pollution

With the clock ticking down until the Games kick off on 26 July, France's "bitter politics and gloomy mindset are dampening the mood" among a "fractious" public, said The Japan Times. The build-up has been "marred by rows" that go to "the heart of a bitter national debate about identity and race".

Herve Le Bras, a sociologist, told the paper that the Games threaten to "underline the major fractures in France – notably the fracture between Paris and the rest of the country".

An Odoxa poll of more than 1,200 Paris region residents last November found that 44% thought the Games were a "bad thing", and that 52% were planning to leave the city during the 16-day event. One Parisian told the BBC that staying would be "unbearable", with the Games making it "impossible to park, impossible to move around, impossible to do anything".

Security fears are also growing amid mounting global tensions. In a break from the tradition of opening the Games in the main stadium, the organisers have devised a "grandiose" ceremony centred around a parade of barges on the River Seine, said Le Monde. The original plan was for as many as 600,000 spectators to watch from the riverbanks, but security and logistical concerns have led the government to "progressively scale back" the plan, with the spectator numbers reduced to 300,000.

And President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that the ceremony might be moved to a new location if the authorities decide that the risk of an attack, potentially by drones, is too great. "There are Plan Bs and Plan Cs", including holding the opening at the city's Stade de France, he told television interviewers. Asked if the Kremlin would seek to disrupt the Olympics, Macron said that he had "no doubt".

Another potential threat is sewage pollution in the Seine, where swimming events are due to take place. In an analysis by the Surfrider Foundation, only one out of 14 water samples from the river were found to be safe for swimming. Bacteria, including "pollution of faecal origin", remains dangerously high in the river, said the non-profit environmental organisation, and it is "clear" that athletes would be "swimming in polluted water and taking significant risks to their health".

Games boss Estanguet said last week that if water quality levels worsen, "there could be a final decision where we could not swim".

'Mountains of scepticism'

The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee has "mountains of scepticism to dispel" in France and beyond, said The Associated Press. The $13 billion cost of the 2021 Tokyo Games and the "unfulfilled promises of beneficial change" for 2016 host Rio de Janeiro triggered widespread anger, and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi were "tarnished by Russian doping".

But some previous predictions of Olympics doom have proved incorrect. In the run-up to the London 2012 Games, the Army was drafted in to bolster the security presence provided by private firm G4S, amid fears of a repeat of the riots that had broken out in the city in 2011.

Journalists emit "cyclical loud buzzing noises before every set of Summer Games", said George Vecsey in The New York Times in 2004. Reporters will "continue to fret on schedule", because it's "in our job description".

Estanguet acknowledged last week that "before this kind of big event, there are always many questions, many concerns". But the Paris edition would make his nation "proud", he said.