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Sensemaker audio

The next Olympics

The next Olympics

After Tokyo comes Paris in 2024. If these Olympic games are difficult because of Covid, what legacy will they hand on?


Transcript

Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the empty promises of host cities… and how one city is trying to save the flickering Olympic flame. 

***

[Clip of Tokyo opening ceremony]

Millions of people around the world watched Tokyo’s opening ceremony last Friday and a lot of them let out a huge sigh of relief.

It might be one year later than planned, there may not be any cheering crowds for the athletes and Tokyo itself might be under a state of emergency but the Olympic Games are on.

And there will be one person who’ll be watching it all unfold more closely than most.  

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

She’ll be taking notes.

“Paris 2024, Los Angeles 28…”

International Olympic Committee announcing the next games

That’s because the next Olympic Games will be taking place in Paris for the third time. 

And just like when Tokyo won its bid to host the games, Paris will be hoping that the Olympics will bring hope for the future again.

“The Games have he power to change the world… they have a universal impact… Yes Paris is a city of hope… of hope for young people… for the next generation. For the sharing generation. We want to the games for them.

Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, launching Paris’ official games bid

But Anne Hidalgo has a lot to learn from Tokyo’s planning troubles. An over budget stadium, extreme weather conditions, and a virus that’s not going anywhere anytime soon all offer Paris a taste of what’s to come. 

The Tokyo Games are the most sterile Olympics we’ve seen yet and in many ways they’ll feel dystopian, dominated by rules and restrictions. Their legacy could be, well, sad. 

So the question is… is there a danger that the Olympic torch will go out? 

***

Tokyo isn’t the first city to have a difficult Games.

“I declare open the Olympic Games of 1976, celebrating the 21st Olympiad of the modern era…”

Queen Elizabeth speaking at the Opening Ceremony for the 1976 Montreal Games

Back in the early 1970s, Montreal in Canada was named as the host city for 1976.

It was sold to the public as “modest in design and inexpensive to stage”. But it turned out very different.  

One of the harshest winters on record delayed construction, workers striking for 155 days and a series of corruption scandals brought a creeping sense of distrust and economic decline. 

“It was not very well managed as a financial project…”

Dick Pound, IOC Member, speaking to CNN

The bill came in 13 times higher than the original estimate.

“And we had a fabulous stadium but I think it cost more than all the stadia in North America put together. Put together? Put together.” 

Dick Pound, IOC Member, speaking to CNN

Montreal was left completely broke. It took them 40 years to pay the bill. 

And Montreal isn’t alone. For the past 50 years, host cities, on average, have overrun their costs by 170 per cent.

And the Games leave a pretty big physical mark on a city’s landscape too. Last year, a Brazilian judge ordered the venues built for the 2016 Rio Games to be closed. They hadn’t been looked after and they’d become unsafe. 

So how is Anne Hidalgo trying to make sure Paris will be better?

***

“For its 2024 bid, Paris is also aiming for responsibility and sustainability.”

France 24 News

And having already won an ambitious campaign to move cars out of the centre of the French capital, Anne Hidalgo will be pushing a green agenda.

“… using 100% bio-based materials using 100% renewable energy, a fleet of zero emission vehicles, and a strong zero waste policy…”

France 24 News

And there will be a focus on recovery too. The 2024 Games will not only help Paris overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but will also offer hope again to a city which not so long ago witnessed 130 people killed on its streets from terrorism and watched their beloved Notre Dame cathedral burn.  

Paris has waited an entire century for this moment. The last time they hosted the Games was in 1924, a time when there was less pomp and controversy. 

But for now, all eyes will be on Tokyo. And just for a moment at least, the action will take over. 

The world will be gripped by the greatest sporting spectacle.

“There were pretty magic… I mean all Olympics are pretty magic.”

Dick Pound, IOC Member, speaking to CNN

The Olympic torch has been handed to the Parisians and for now at least, it’s still burning. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.

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