From 2 million to 300,000: why was the number of spectators at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games reduced so much ?

From 2 million to 300,000: why was the number of spectators at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games reduced so much ?

La cérémonie d'ouverture des JO de Paris 2024, prévue dans la soirée du 26 juillet, aura lieu sur la Seine, au cœur de Paris. E+ – pawel.gaul

The government has considerably reduced the number of spectators for the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games by setting it at 326,000. Very far from the 600,000 people put forward by the minister in October 2022 , and even further from the 2 million spectators envisaged two years ago by the Paris town hall.

At the beginning, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she hoped for two million spectators at the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games. Then, we had announced to expect 600,000. Finally, the gauge was – again – revised downwards, and there will be no more than 326,000 spectators on July 26.

If the government has considerably lowered the gauge, it is mainly to meet the security challenge of organizing this vast, unprecedented river parade on the Seine.

A headache for Darmanin

Securing this opening ceremony, for the first time in history outside a stadium, has been a headache for the minister from the start of the Interior Gérald Darmanin. In a tense international context with a terrorist threat still weighing on France, the question of gauge was at the heart of the negotiations between the authorities and the organizers of the 2024 Olympics.

Even if there is “no specific terrorist threat relating to games to date, there is a threat to France in general”, explained this Tuesday 5 March Gérald Darmanin, who came to present to the Senate Law Committee the entire security system for the opening ceremony.

Two thirds of free places by invitation

A total of 326,000 people will be able to watch the ceremony from the lower platforms (104,000 paid seats) and the upper platforms (222,000 free seats). The 222,000 people who will be able to attend the ceremony free of charge nautical parade will be chosen by the State, public authorities or the organizing committee.

In addition, around 200,000 people will live in buildings overlooking the Seine. 50,000 will be in the Parisian fanzones (one fanzone per district) and a billion and a half viewers will follow the parade on Mondiovision on July 26.

Very far from the 600,000 people proposed by the minister in October 2022, and even further from the 2 million spectators envisaged two years ago by the Paris town hall, according to a source close to the negotiations. At the end of January, Gérald Darmanin mentioned a capacity of 300,000 people. 

Tense international context and terrorist threat

The international context, with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the war triggered by an unprecedented attack launched by Hamas in Israel on October 7, combined with the level of terrorist threat raised in France after the Arras attack in October 2023 where a teacher was killed, had been pleading for months for a reduced gauge.

The knife attack on December 2 by a 26-year-old Franco-Iranian who cost the life of a 23-year-old German-Filipino tourist near the Eiffel Tower increased concerns .

Several political leaders, including the president of the Ile-de-France region Valérie Pécresse, had publicly pleaded for a significant reduction in the number of spectators; others, like the former Minister of Sports David Douillet, called for the implementation of a "Plan B", a hypothesis ruled out by the organizers.

Never since Louis XV

All the delegations – there are 206 of them – have "agreed to parade on the Seine" on board 94 boats, welcomed the Minister of the Interior, while questions existed concerning the participation of some of them, such as the Israeli or the ;#39;American.

The fleet, which will cover six kilometers from Austerlitz to Trocadéro, will be completed by 86 boats dedicated to safety, technical teams and recovery. "Since Louis XV, there has been no nautical parade on the Seine in the same direction", noted the minister.

"trusted third parties" will award free places

One point should bother those who dreamed of being among the beneficiaries of free places: that of the allocation which has been revised. Abandoned the idea of ​​a ticket office accessible to all. The executive finally decided to entrust the distribution of free tickets to institutional partners in Ile-de-France (State, host cities, Ile-de-France region, Paris 2024).

These "trusted third parties", as Gérald Darmanin named them, will offer people they have chosen to then register on the website used for the acquisition of paid places. They will then receive a QR code.

In practice, for example, a "Thierry de Béziers" will not be able to acquire a free place unless they know a "trusted third party" Ile-de-France. On the other hand, a government source told AFP, "residents", "residents" or "merchants" which are "impacted" by the organization of the Olympic Games, will be able to be awarded places.

Considerable security measures

On the security side, the government will mobilize considerable resources for the ceremony, from 45,000 members of the internal security forces in Ile-de-France. For the first time, elite police and gendarmerie units (200 from the Raid, 350 from the GIGN and 100 from the BRI) will work together.

All those who participate in the Games will have been "screened" by the services. 1 million security investigations are planned. "89,000 have been carried out to date, giving rise to 280 notices of incompatibility, including six S" files, said Darmanin. "2,000 municipal police officers" will be mobilized in Paris. 

"2,500 foreign police officers" will also be present on the device, as is generally the case during major international sporting events. The need for private security personnel is estimated at between "18,000 and 24,000 people".

The Ministry of the Armed Forces will oversee the fight against drones. The airspace will be completely closed within a radius of 150 kilometers around Paris, from 7 p.m. to midnight, on the day of the opening ceremony, which has never happened according to the Minister of the Interior. This means that no plane will be able to land or take off from the international airports of Roissy and Orly in particular.

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