Paris 2024 Summer Olympics: the unprecedented alliance of ecological sobriety and competition
For a long time, the Olympic Games favoured excessive infrastructures over the environment, but now times have changed. The 2024 edition organised in Paris aims to ‘put ephemerality at the service of sustainability’.
In the past, ‘several editions have succeeded in bringing long-term benefits to the host countries’, according to the American journalist Henry Grabar. As an urban planning specialist, he has closely studied the transformations brought about by hosting the Games. The 1964 Tokyo Games are a good example of the opportunity that such an event can represent. ‘For Japan, at the time, it was a real opportunity to show the world its modernity and to move away from its post-war image,’ he explains. ‘The Shikansen, a famous high-speed train system, was inaugurated for the opening of the Games, which provided the perfect pretext for accelerating the country's development.’
Putting an end to the excesses of the past
Over time, however, the myth of progress that was systematically associated with hosting the Games has eroded. From Athens to Sochi or Rio, there have been several ‘white elephants’ causing painful memories for the local population; this term refers to an expensive but little-used infrastructure that eventually becomes a financial burden for local authorities and their taxpayers, even if it is abandoned. This has damaged the attractiveness of the Games to such an extent that in 2014, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) almost ran out of candidates to assign the 2022 Winter Games, which were finally held in Beijing.
A few months later, in order to renew the interest of cities deterred by those astronomical organisational costs, the IOC introduced its ‘Agenda 2020’. This plan put forward a new philosophy to potential candidate cities: ‘to present a project that is consistent with long-term economic, social and environmental planning needs.’
‘Paris 2024 is the first test of this new strategy, which will show that the excesses of the past were not necessary,’ analyses Henry Grabar, for whom this model echoes the 1984 edition of the Los Angeles Games, marked by very little new construction. This sobriety, which was at the time motivated by the economy, will soon be back in the Californian megalopolis: at the forefront of the fight against climate change, Los Angeles will indeed succeed Paris in organising the future Summer Games, planned for 2028.
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