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Political shenanigans in Paris' 2024 Olympic bid

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Message Marcel Aubry

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With Paris gearing up to unveil its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games (set for June 23rd), as a Frenchman, I'm left wondering whether the adage "third time's the charm" bears any value. For those not in the know, Paris traumatically lost in 1992 to Barcelona, in 2008 to Beijing and in 2012 to London. Why would it be different this time around? Well, the renewed impetus revolves around the nomination of Bernard Lapasset, the Chairman of the international rugby federation, and Tony Estanguet, a three time canoeing Olympic champion, as leaders of Paris' bid in an effort to show that it is the "leaders of sport, not state" that are in control. For all our cynical ways, us French were "shocked, shocked" to find that politics played a part in the decision to award Olympic Games.

Taking another stab at it and standing in stark contrast with the city's previous bids, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has tried to depoliticize this fourth attempt at securing the first Olympic Games hosted on French territory in a century (indeed, Paris last held this honor in 1924). With this in mind, Lapasset has started making rounds supporting the French capital, saying with every occasion he gets that his team will lead a new approach, with sporting officials and athletes at the forefront.

However, taking this statement at face value, the French media has recently been up in arms over what has become an unlikely sticking point in an Olympic bid: where to organize the sailing competition were Paris to win the bid. Since the city of lights can only boast having the narrow river Seine splitting it in two, the competition will have to be outsourced to one of France's many ports and summer resorts.

With several such cities in the mix, all eyes have naturally turned to the decision making process, hungry for any detail that would contradict Lapasset's boastful remarks of empowering athletes at the expense of politicians. Of course, the media remarked, the competition will be won by La Rochelle (who won the previous two bids). No, clamored others, Brest will secure the rights because the president of the French Sailing Federation hails from there.

For those getting their info through the grapevine, the Marseille Senator, who is a close friend of the president of the French Olympic Committee, will definitely sway the decision and Marseille would win the rights. Meanwhile, sports enthusiasts were disappointed to find that Morbihan, the so-called "sportsman choice" in sailing, which is also in the running, could find itself deprived of the Olympic crown by the same political ploys of the past.

Of course, such petty intrigues could seem laughable for those less versed in the French political scene, but they point to the unprecedented amount of emotional energy that surrounds Paris' 2024 Olympic bid. Even if the winner won't be announced until 2017, and even if Rome, Boston and Hamburg have also thrown in the hat (while Budapest, Qatar and Azerbaijan are also expected to run), many already feel that the city of lights, wronged three times already by political machinations, deserves to be rewarded with the 2024 bid.

For a language that has several pages in the thesaurus for the "unhappiness" entry and for a people that has their expectations for the coming year "ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan" (Gallup poll), losing the 2024 Olympic Games would constitute an unforgivable tragedy in France.

Bernard Lapasset might have thrown himself in the lion's den with his obstinate remarks about putting sportsmen first. With so many swirling political interests surrounding the sailing competition, Lapasset, however, has an unmissable opportunity to rise to the expectation he himself set.

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Marcel hails from France and is an aspiring writer, independent thinker, sports wonk and petrolhead. Views are his own.
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