The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced on September 13th in Lima, Peru, that Paris will host the summer Olympic Games in 2024; exactly one century after Paris last organized the Games in 1924. The summer Olympic Games is one of the most prestigious sports competitions in the world. As athletes compete for the coveted gold medal, cities across the world also compete via a bidding system to host the Games for the prestige, alleged economic benefits and development opportunities that come along.
If the Olympics do indeed serve as a showcase for political power and geopolitical prestige (think of Beijing 2008 or the Sotchi 2014 Winter games), less and less cities are willing to host the games because of the so-called “winner’s curse” – the colossal debts cities and countries accumulate for hosting the games. Montréal for instance finished paying off its debts for the 1976 Games in 2006. It is therefore more and more difficult for the IOC to find candidates. Poland, Ukraine and Sweden for instance all pulled out from the bidding of the 2022 Winter Games, leaving Beijing as sole candidate.
In spite of these past endeavours for other hosting cities, Paris is determined to have the Olympics and showcase a model for highly sustainable games, whether it is regarding economic benefits, a carbon neutral impact or integrated urban development.
Paris 2024: a challenge for economically sustainable Games
For Montréal 1976, the estimated cost for infrastructure and organization fell short by $12 million. For Athens 2004, the budget went over $5 million, without counting the cost of building the necessary infrastructure.These cases illustrate the “winner’s curse”, a legacy of substantial financial debts that did not solve the countries existing political problems nor equip the host cities with lasting and relevant infrastructure. However economic benefits is usually one of the main arguments cities put forth to convince voters and national policy-makers to push for the Olympics. It is supposed to bring net financial benefits, stimulate growth and employment and attract more tourists during and after the event.
Experts estimate that the Games will bring the Parisian region between $5 and $11 billion net benefits, $8 billion being the most likely, and costs are for the moment estimated at $6, 7 billion. 247 000 jobs are expected to be created within the Parisian agglomeration, and the city hopes to attract more tourists, as London, over the post-Games years .
Paris is also pushing for a more realistic budget and agenda before so as to minimize the financial risk that hosting the Games has become. Many factors seem to make Paris, in a financially stable country, a low risk choice. About 95% of the necessary infrastructure, including transportation, stadiums and accommodation already exists. Financial overrun does not seem likely as only a swimming pool and the Olympic Village need to be built, and therefore lowering the risk of ending up with “white elephants” – infrastructure that is hardly used and maintenance being too costly.
Carbon neutral games? The environmental challenge
Hosting the Olympic Games has a serious impact on the environment for much infrastructure is generally needed: stadiums, transportation infrastructure, accommodation for athletes and tourists, etc. Not only is construction costly in terms of money, but also in terms of environmental impact, using up natural resources and contributing to overall global pollution.
Paris has already announced that the city will strive to organise the most sustainable Games in history, lowering by 55% the carbon footprint of the 2012 London Games – considered as the most sustainable Games up to now – and by partnering with environmental institutions such as WWF France (World Wide Fund for Nature). The overall goal is, as announced by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, to organize such an event with a neutral carbon footprint. Therefore, Paris’s candidature was designed following the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2016 at the COP 21.
As 95% of infrastructure is already available, pollution due to construction should be largely reduced, all the more so that the Olympic Village and pool are designed to be energy efficient buildings. The village aims to use 100% of renewable energies and implement a “zero waste” policy. Other objectives are to provide public or shared transportation to all spectators and athletes and a fleet of environmentally friendly buses.
An integrated Parisian agglomeration
Big sports events such as the Olympics or football World Cups (e.g. South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014) are a strong incentive for urban development, as most of the events take place in major cities that need to provide the infrastructure for accommodation, transportation and venues. Such events create windows of opportunity for policy-makers to agree on new projects or catalyze stagnant projects, accompanied by significant financial means to backup urban interventions. For London (2012) and Barcelona (1992), the Olympics were an opportunity to revitalize specific neighbourhoods and provide the city with new and lasting infrastructure.
The Olympics sites are to be spread all over Paris, highlighting in particular its most emblematic monuments as the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais, etc, and in Seine-Saint-Denis. Seine-Saint-Denis is a “departement” (one of the French administrative divisions) of the agglomeration, and among the poorest areas of the Parisian region. The Olympics are considered as a way to include this “banlieue” politically and economically, but also reinforce its ties with the rest of the Parisian agglomeration by providing housing, transportation infrastructure and amenities.
Both the Olympic and the Media Village in Pleyel and Le Bourget are to serve afterwards as housing in areas where demand is very high – approximately 70 000 housing units are needed per year – and where construction and concerted urbanism do not manage to keep up with. An Olympic swimming pool is also planned in Pleyel and all of the Olympic sites will be served by the new metro lines –lines 15 and 16 – of the Grand Paris project. Not only are the Olympics expected to give a new image to forsaken neighborhoods, it is also an opportunity to revive and make significant progress on metropolitan projects such as the Grand Paris, the extension of the Parisian transportation system.
The Olympics: a political game
The political prestige and international aura outweigh any other qualms global cities might have in hosting the Olympic Games. As cities are becoming powerful political entities worldwide, it is crucial for metropolises to gain political and economic momentum to weigh more on the global agenda. Paris clearly intends to become a model city for sustainability and a worldwide leader for urban environmental policies, and the 2024 Olympic Games will showcase those innovative policies.
The Olympics are a highly political issue at the local and national level for the host country but also at the international scale. The Olympics also do raise the question of who gets the Games. The financial investment does not always serve the host city and country in the medium or long term. The 2004 Games coupled with corruption and mismanagement was partly responsible of the Greek financial crisis. Can the Games therefore be only hosted by an elite group of rich and powerful cities, relinquishing the very spirit of the Olympic Games, to build a peaceful world and eschew discrimination of any kind? The Rio and Beijing Games did indeed symbolize the integration of developing economies into the globalized system, but at what cost? Paris 2024 is shooting for a model of sustainable growth, in which the social and environmental development outweighs global prestige and financial overruns.
Article written by Sofia MORGAVI
 France Culture. Emission « L’Invité des Matins d’Eté » – Paris 2024 : y a-t-il un intérêt à organiser les JO ? Partie 1 et partie 2. (21.08.2017)
 Candidate Committee Impact Study – France Culture. Emission « L’Invité des Matins d’Eté » – Paris 2024 : y a-t-il un intérêt à organiser les JO ? Partie 1 et partie 2. (21.08.2017)