Updated: December 15, 2021 9:54:54 am
A river as the backdrop, athletes in boats and more than half a million people along the quays: the Paris Olympics opening ceremony, in July 2024, will be unlike any other in the Games’ 100-plus year history.
Tony Estanguet, the Olympic gold medalist who is in charge of delivering the Paris Games, predicted that it will be a “true moment of marvellous madness” after revealing the grand plans, also a potential security nightmare, on Monday. For the first time ever, an Olympic opening ceremony will be taken out of the stadium and in the middle of the city, with the public being allowed to watch it for free.
The idea is steeped in symbolism. The two Olympics that will precede the event in Paris — the Tokyo Olympics, held in July this year, and the Beijing Winter Games, scheduled for February 2022 — have been severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and largely been closed to the public. The opening ceremony and the sporting events at the Tokyo Games were held without any spectators while Beijing has barred foreign spectators for its Games.
In this context, the announcement of an opening ceremony that will be open for all is an attempt to signal bright prospects for the Games. And if everything goes planned, Paris will throw a party few would have imagined.
The Paris Olympics opening ceremony will be held on the Seine, the emblematic river that flows through the heart of the city. There will be 162 boats to ferry athletes from over 200 nations along the 6 km route for the parade, during which it will pass through some of Paris’s most iconic monuments, including Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
While a director is yet to be named for the opening ceremony, the organisers said dozens of artistic performances are likely to take place along the length of the River Seine, including stunt riders leaping high over Paris’s iconic bridges. The ceremony, they added, will end at the Eiffel Tower and a celebration will take place in a plaza across the river from the monument.
Over 10,000 athletes are likely to take part in the Paris Olympics. However, not all of them will participate in the opening ceremony, which usually runs late into the night, given that events begin early the following morning.
Estanguet, who is the only French athlete to win three gold medals at three different Olympics, said the boat parade will make the ceremony less stressful for the athletes and give them an option to return to the Village early.
“I’ve been an Olympic athlete and it’s been magical. But it’s also right to say that many athletes don’t participate in the opening ceremony because of the constraints of standing for hours and also getting back quite late to the village,” Estanguet, 43, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“But with the boat parade they will have the choice to go back to the village if they want to go to bed early, or to stay for the second part of the ceremony in a mini stadium by the Trocadero in the face of the Eiffel Tower. Another part of our thinking is that we wanted to use the existing landmarks of Paris, not build them within the stadium,” he said.
It’s going to be a show like no other in Olympic HISTORY.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) December 14, 2021
The innovations don’t end there.
Unlike most opening ceremonies, for which tickets are priced high, and are largely made for TV, a major part of the Paris Games opening will be free for local spectators. Fans will be able to watch it without tickets on the quays along the Seine. The lower part of the river bank will be ticketed while the upper parts will have free entry. Organisers said they will install 80 giant screens along the route. This, the organisers expect, will allow at least 600,000 people to watch the ceremony in person, roughly 10 times more than the number that could be accommodated at the Stade de France, one of the key Games venues.
The idea is in sync with the Paris Games organisers’ attempt to keep the city at the heart of their plans and the venues have been planned accordingly. Beach volleyball, for instance, will be held at the foot of the Eiffel Tower while equestrian competitions will be conducted at the Palace of Versailles. Events like BMX freestyle, skateboarding, breaking and 3×3 basketball will be held on a square at the eastern end of the Champs-Elysees whereas archery will be at Les Invalides, another important Parisian monument.
Coming in 2024.
According to @Paris2024, over 600,000 spectators are estimated to attend the Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony to watch athletes sail along the Seine River and kick-off the Games. pic.twitter.com/iMhLiNwEuF
— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) December 14, 2021
Estanguet said thousands of runners will be allowed to run through the Olympic marathon course after the athletes start their race, in what is called Marathon Pour Tous (Marathon for All). The closing ceremony, too, will not be held inside a stadium. Instead, it will take place at the gardens and fountains of the Trocadero, overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
AFP quoted sources as saying that France’s security officials had set a limit of 25,000 people for the ceremony while organisers and the Paris city hall had initially pushed for two million, adding that “concerns were voiced” over “how to best ensure security for such a massive event”. However, the news agency said, France President Emmanuel Macron “rubber-stamped the idea”.
Estanguet said multiple law enforcement agencies and the French military would ensure security at the event, adding that police would be aided by private security.