Pressure on Paris Games ‘to kickstart new Olympic golden era’

Organisers face plenty of hurdles

January 24, 2024
Paris. - AFP

The Paris Games has the chance to "kickstart a resurgence of the Olympic brand" following the last two Covid-affected editions and the doping-blighted 2014 Sochi Winter Games, former IOC marketing executive Terrence Burns has told AFP.

With just six months to go to the opening ceremony in the French capital, organisers face plenty of hurdles if they are to seize this opportunity.

Chief among them are security concerns over the revolutionary opening ceremony and a first ever digital ticketing system.

Displaying typical French artistic flair, the ceremony will take place on the river Seine as opposed to in a stadium.

Burns, who since leaving the IOC has played a key role in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, admits "the world has changed dramatically" since the ceremony plan was given the thumbs-up.

"I know Etienne (Thobois, director general of the organising committee) and Tony (Estanguet, head of the organising committee) and I am sure that they realise that this issue, security, can make or break their Games depending on the outcome," Burns told AFP.

"They are serious and prudent."

Burns says Paris has a huge opportunity in hosting the July 26-August 11 showpiece.

"I think Paris 24 realises how important these Games are to the (Olympic) movement and to the world," he said.

He said Paris would be the first Games since London in 2012 "to reach any sense of comparative opportunity".

Tokyo 2020 and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics were excellent but "their global impact was muted beyond their own borders," due to the strict Covid protocols in place, he said.

Rio in 2016, meanwhile, "was beset by a host of organisational problems which led to unending negative reportage" and Sochi "struggled with doping" and a controversy over the respect of the LGBTQ community in Russia.

´Never mundane´

Thus the onus falls on Paris to reboot the image of the Games, which represents a formidable challenge.

"The fervent hope is that Paris 24 will shine brilliantly and help kickstart a resurgence of the Olympic brand and Games around the world," Burns told AFP.

"Beautiful, wonderful things that inspire us are usually rare and difficult to achieve; if they were easy, they would be mundane.

"The Games are never mundane."

Ticketing will be a crucial test of whether Paris can host a successful Games.

The French organisers will want to avoid a repeat of the debacle at the 2022 Champions League final which left French officials red-faced having pointed the finger at Liverpool fans when in fact the police were to blame.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe is unhappy about the ticket prices but for Michael Payne, the IOC´s former head of marketing, the nerves may be jangling more over the all-new system.

"This time ticketing will be digital -- a first," the 65-year-old Irishman told AFP.

"I hope that they have tested, and retested the systems, with full loading, as if for any reason the system goes down, or it cannot take the load, then a massive problem is on hand."

Coe compared the prices unfavourably to those of the 2012 London Olympics which he organised.

However, his view is not shared by British Olympic Association chair Hugh Robertson, who was the government minister responsible for delivering the London Games.

"I think above all it´s important to have tickets available at a range of price points so that the Games can remain both accessible and sustainable for years to come," Robertson told AFP.

"The organising committee have done well to strike a balance -- for Paris, general ticket prices begin at 24 euros ($26) and almost half are 50 euros or less -- and they´ve already sold over seven million of them."

The war in Ukraine has inevitably cast a shadow over Paris, but Burns, Payne and Robertson agreed that if Ukraine boycott the Games in protest at the presence of even a limited number of Russian competitors, it would only hurt the athletes.

"I think it would be a great shame -- (Ukraine) can make a far bigger statement by competing than by not being there," said Payne, who in two decades at the IOC was credited with overhauling its brand and finances through sponsorship.

Burns thinks the IOC criteria that Russians must meet -- no team sports, no athletes with military or security connections and no athlete who has supported the war -- could make Ukraine´s threat superfluous.

"Given the Russian NOC and government has already stated it will not support an athlete that ´meets´ the IOC criteria for participation, this (Ukraine boycott) may indeed be a moot point," he said.