Paris 2024 – the Olympics return home!

No. 1: May 2024
Guest author: Michael R Payne

Michael R Payne is the former IOC Director of Marketing & Broadcast Rights and long-standing strategic advisor to the global events industry. Paris 2024 will be Payne’s 22nd Olympic Games (including winter editions.) He is the author of two award-winning Olympic books: Olympic Turnaround, detailing the Olympic Movement’s turnaround from bankruptcy to a billion dollar business, and Toon In!, an insider’s unofficial and entirely unsanctioned Olympic history.

For its success in changing the model of the Olympic Games to better engage with the public on key issues, Paris 2024 is JTA Communicator of the Month.

Patience is finally rewarded. When the Olympic Games return to Paris after a lapse of over a century, the French will feel that they are finally getting part of their birthright back. The very first modern Olympic Games were scheduled to be in Paris in 1896 – at least that was Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s plan until he was outwitted at the first IOC Session by the Greek delegate Demetrios Vikelas, who persuaded his colleagues to select Athens.

France would go on to stage the second Olympic Games in Paris in 1900, and again in 1924, but thereafter, despite five bid attempts (Lyon 1968, Lille 2004, and Paris 1992, 2008 and 2012) the French were not able to bring “their” Games home. Sixth bid lucky!

The stakes in staging the Olympic Games would seem to be getting higher with every edition. Only, this time, the stakes are higher not just for the host nation but for everyone: the IOC, the National Olympic Committees, many of the international federations, the broadcast partners and the sponsors.

It is over a decade since London 2012 and the world last experienced a “normal” Games. Rio 2016 proved so operationally dysfunctional, due to the gross mismanagement by the Organising Committee leadership, that the IOC was never sure that the Games would make it through to the Closing Ceremony.

Tokyo 2020 was disrupted by the global COVID-19 outbreak and it was a miracle that the IOC was able to pull it off, with many Japanese politicians pressing hard for the Games to be outright cancelled. Now the world turns its attention to Paris and, at a time of ever growing global instability, anxiously hopes that these Games can be staged in their full glory and without a hitch. For all the cynics, and despite the dysfunctional political environment that we are all living through, we still want the world to come together, even if ever so fleetingly , with the magic of the Olympic Games.

For the French, these Games are an opportunity to present their dynamic nation and culture  to the world. The last time Paris hosted the Games, in 1924, the city was very much the centre of world culture. And, at the time, the French organisers looked to innovate and stamp their identity and leadership on the Olympic Movement. The 1924 Games saw the creation of the first ever athletes’ Olympic Village, amongst other innovations, including the first ever radio broadcast of the Olympic Games.

A century on, the French have not held back from wanting to push the boundaries and  innovate. The journey to the Opening Ceremony has seen the usual roller coaster, with grandstanding politicians grabbing the Olympic spotlight for one or other cause and, in the process, making the Organising Committee’s life even more difficult. Unelected civil servants have also at times made life as complicated as possible for Tony Estanguet, the President of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, and his management team.

But, through it all, the organisers have remained focused and persevered, and things are starting to look very promising. A significant part of the “Olympic magic” is delivered not by what happens inside the stadiums, but beyond the fields of play and on throughout the host city. Here the IOC and the organisers are fortunate to have one of the most, if not the most, dynamic and architecturally striking cities in the world as their Olympic backdrop.

The organisers have done an excellent job in spreading the Olympic spirit throughout France and encouraging the world to be part of it, with the result that it is looking like nearly every event is already sold out. Now the organisers only have to pray that they have sufficiently and robustly tested their new digital ticketing system and the millions of spectators will have a smooth Games experience.

Each Games presents new technological innovations but rarely one so ambitious and mission critical as the transition of the spectator experience from paper to digital. Elsewhere the Games will see the first real introduction of AI technology, with TOP partners from Alibaba to Intel helping to drive the agenda.

Other new innovations under the guise of taking the Olympic Games to the people – from the ambitious Opening Ceremony plan along the river Seine to the staging of a public marathon along the Olympic marathon course a few hours after the gold medal has been awarded – have the potential to become a benchmark and a guide for future Games. The ideas will though do nothing for the ulcers of those in charge of security.

The French organisers have done an excellent job building engagement throughout France, using the Games as a platform to promote everything from sustainability to equality. The Games will see, for the first time ever in Olympic history, equal numbers of men and women athletes. They have also used the Games to communicate key Olympic messages and values, such as introducing 30 minutes of physical activity a day into the school curriculum throughout the country. Real tangible legacies!

Russia will continue to cry that they have not been invited, and will no doubt set their hackers loose in order to try and disrupt the party as they did with Pyeongchang 2018. But the rest of the world wants to party, they want the Games to succeed and, for a brief moment in time, dream of what the world can be like when everyone does come together. Let’s hope the City of Love delivers the magic – it’s not as if it doesn’t already have all the elements to get off to a flying start.

Picture credit: Ugo Gattoni – Paris 2024