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France unveils security plan for Olympics opening ceremony in central Paris

The 2024 summer Olympics in Paris will mark the first time an opening ceremony has not been held inside a stadium – instead, the extravaganza will unfold along the River Seine, with spectators lining streets and bridges in the heart of the French capital. The plan is not without risks, and organisers revealed extensive safety protocols on Tuesday. 

The Olympics opening ceremony will begin at 8:24pm on July 26, when the first boat – carrying the Greek delegation – emerges onto the River Seine from the eastern part of the capital. The vessel will lead a flotilla of boats carrying the athletes participating in the Games 6 kilometres west through the heart of the French capital, past famous landmarks and crowds of spectators.  

The last boat, carrying the French delegation, will arrive at 11:50pm at the Eiffel Tower, where athletes and other spectators will witness the artistic and musical spectacular of the official ceremony along with the lighting of the Olympic flame.  

Olympic host countries typically use the opening ceremony to spotlight their national culture for a global audience, usually through song and dance. But the organisers of the 2024 games have added a twist by declining to host the event in a stadium in order to make the city of Paris itself the star of the show.   

“It’s the biggest audience that France will ever have had, the most beautiful showcase,” said organising committee president Tony Estanguet at a press conference on Tuesday. “Our responsibility is to create dreams, to show how incredible this country is.” 

“The open and public character of this ceremony will enable hundreds of thousands of people to see it for free,” added Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. 

Registration for free tickets  

But both the scale and open staging of the event pose unique logistical and security challenges. 

Organisers have promised the ceremony will be “the largest ever held in the history of the Games”, and the numbers are colossal: Some 10,500 athletes, 100,000 paying guests, up to 400,000 free-ticket holders and 200 heads of state are set to attend. Live broadcasts will be shown on 80 giant screens and extensive sound systems will be erected in the capital. 

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin joined Estanguet and Mayor Hidalgo on Tuesday to detail an 11-page security protocol aimed at shielding the event from the threats of terrorism, drone attacks and other risks.   

One of the biggest security announcements was that attendees wanting to claim one of the hundreds of thousands of free tickets will have to sign up in advance on a ticketing platform set up by France’s interior ministry. Darmanin said the tool would “be indispensable for regulating all [crowd] flows for tourists and Parisians”. 

Free-ticket holders will have access to one of 20 zones along the river’s upper embankments, separated from guests paying for a closer, waterside view. They will not have access to bridges, which will be reserved for logistics, sound and lighting equipment, emergency services and security, and paid ticket holders. 

Ticket prices for the opening ceremony ran as high as €2,700 during the most recent ticket sale on May 11. Athletes and others have already decried the high prices of tickets to the competitions, which run from €24 to €980 for semi-final events.  

35,000 police officers  

The security protocol addressed acute concerns that the show might be a target for terrorism, as well as the possibility of protests after the sustained and sometimes violent demonstrations this year against pension reforms pushed by President Emmanuel Macron. 

Bomb-carrying drones are also a worry. “It’s a totally new threat,” Darmanin said. “It’s not certain that anything will happen but it is certainly the most difficult to prepare for.” 

Plans include an unprecedented deployment of 35,000 police officers in the French capital for the opening ceremony. (For comparison, the London police force deployed nearly 13,000 police officers for its largest-ever security operation, the coronation of King Charles.) 

Some 2,000-3,000 security agents from private firms will be also be called upon, with stepped-up screening procedures for hiring.  

“We will be, in terms of security, extremely demanding regarding those who will be on the lower and higher quays [of the river] or to the stadiums, including private security agents,” Darmanin said.  

An extra 400 security cameras will also be installed on Paris streets ahead of the event, bringing the total to 4,400.

Critics have already raised privacy concerns about video surveillance technology that will be used during the Games in Paris on an experimental basis, combining cameras with artificial intelligence software to flag potential security risks such as abandoned packages or crowd surges.  

Darmanin on Tuesday defended the measures, saying that all security efforts put in place “had a common objective: that the experience for spectators will be as good as possible”. 

Unanswered questions 

As plans solidify for the ceremony – now only 14 months away – announcements this week indicate some attempts to downsize the event. Previous announcements put the number of free tickets at 500,000, as opposed to the “roughly” 300,000 – 400,000 suggested by the sports minister overseeing the Olympics, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, on Sunday.  

Darmanin on Tuesday said “hundreds of thousands” of free tickets would be available. 

There remain questions over a recruitment shortfall for privately hired security agents and how many boats will join the flotilla. French media have quoting figures between 90-170 vessels. But “there are questions over how many delegations will refuse to join the parade as well as which delegations will accept sharing boats”, a member of the organising committee told French sports media site RMC Sport.  

Tuesday’s safety protocol specifies there will be 30 security boats and 25 other craft in reserve in case of breakdowns or other needs. 

A partial trial run for the flotilla, without passengers, will take place on July 17, with more tests planned for spring 2024. In the week before the event, two days of rehearsals on the river have been planned.   

And new air defence technologies to counter potential drone attacks will be trialled later this year when France hosts the Rugby World Cup.

Source: france24