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Paris (AFP) – The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Paris on July 26, 2024 will take place on the Seine, organizers announced on Monday, breaking the long-standing tradition of the Summer Games of a procession of athletes and officials.
More than 160 boats filled with athletes and officials from over 200 countries will sail nearly 6 km (4 miles) between the Austerlitz and Jena bridges in central Paris, with the closing ceremony scheduled at the Trocadéro , an expanse of gardens and fountains overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
“Today is a defining moment,” said Tony Estanguet, triple Olympic gold medalist in C1 canoe who heads the Paris 2024 organizing committee.
“There are a lot of emotions, a lot of enthusiasm. The opening ceremony is by far the biggest scorer.”
Paris 2024 organizers are expecting 600,000 people for what they call the biggest Olympic ceremony ever.
Part of the public will be dispersed along the banks of the Seine in paid stands while the rest will be able to participate for free.
French President Emmanuel Macron endorsed the idea of holding the ceremony on the Seine in July despite some concerns expressed about how best to ensure safety for such a massive event that passes through many well-known parts of the landscape emblematic city of Paris.
Security officials had asked for a limit of 25,000 people while the organizers and the Paris city hall had initially pleaded for two million, according to a source at the city hall.
Prime Minister Jean Castex last month oversaw a meeting of the inter-ministerial committee in which he asked Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to make some “suggestions” on the security of Olympic venues, including the opening ceremony.
Castex said he wanted proposals “by the end of the year for the opening ceremony and no later than June 2022 for all venues and events.”
“The Interior Ministry and the entire government supported this ceremony,” said Estanguet, adding that the police would be assisted by private security along the 12 km of accessible riverbanks.
Unprecedented public appeal
In an interview with AFP, Estanguet spoke of his “absolute pride” to have worked on this idea.
“For the first time in the history of the Games, we are going to organize a procession of athletes right in the middle of the city, on the Seine,” he said.
“10,500 athletes from 206 countries who will come to Paris and cross the city from east to west to see and discover the most beautiful urban landscape of our country.
“We expect at least 600,000 people, that is to say 10 times more than in a stadium like the Stade de France for example.
“This is truly an unprecedented first”, he said, “where we manage to combine the most beautiful aspects of our history, our culture, our heritage”.
Estanguet specified that if the ceremony would be “extremely spectacular”, it would also be “extremely popular”, accessible to the greatest number, some of them free, the first for an Olympic opening ceremony.
“As a legacy of Paris 2024, we have the will to leave France a more sporty country and our Games are starting exactly with this ambition to open up opportunities for all to participate,” he told AFP.
“This will be the case for the opening ceremony, and it will be the case for the marathon, which will also be open to the general public.”
Beach volleyball will take place in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, archery at the Invalides and the so-called “urban” sports of freestyle BMX, skateboard, station wagon and 3×3 basketball on the Place de la Concorde, the largest Place de Paris at the east end of the Champs-Elysées, undoubtedly the most famous avenue in the world.
“This desire to take sport out of the stadiums to make it more accessible to as many people as possible is really the DNA of Paris 2024,” said Estanguet.
“It was born from the ambition of French sport to want to develop, to be promoted during these Olympics”.
© 2021 AFP