Advertisement

In-Seine! Paris bracing for mad, magnifique Olympics

It always did promise to be a festival like no other, an undertaking so majestically mad and marvellous that only a city which fancies itself the world's greatest could ever hope to pull it off.

Beach volleyball under the Eiffel Tower? Incroyable!

B-boys and girls breaking at the end of the Champs Elysees? Magnifique!

A floating opening ceremony on its river? In-Seine!

Eiffel Tower
The Olympic rings first appeared on the Eiffel Tower earlier this June. (AP PHOTO)

Don't forget the marathon for everyone, with 20,000 weary souls hobbling up Les Invalides at midnight.

For this is the Olympics that Paris promises will be thrown "open wide" to everyone, one for all the world to revel in after the sterile, ghost town Games of COVID-era Tokyo.

But with a month to go, Paris is enduring the familiar last-minute fear-and-loathing, and anxious hand-wringing that host cities endure.

There may be big, exciting pointers, like the giant Olympic rings suddenly materialising on the Eiffel Tower, but so much is still left to your imagination as you peep behind scaffolding and gaze on distant makeshift stands gradually enveloping matchless landmarks around sealed-off avenues.

Yes, the wide open Games are closed for the moment and you'll hear as many moans and groans among the locals about the disruption as you'll pick up on any well-concealed signs of pride.

A quick, fantastically unscientific straw poll at the recent French Open tennis might have persuaded you the entire population will be deserting the capital for the duration.

Their complaints in brief: Paris will be unbearable, its citizens effectively imprisoned as normal work practices are abandoned amid transport rendered unusable by the invasion of 15 million tourists and massive Metro price hikes.

What a waste of money, they say, when there are so many impoverished neighbourhoods where Euros would have been better spent.

For that complaint, read every other Olympics in living memory…

Organising committee head Tony Estanguet, the former canoe champ, is fed up with all the negativity, comparing French pessimism to "countries who like to play up their qualities and strengths".

In truth, the "Olympics bashing" he's talking about is the oldest sport of all.

This Games' slogan is 'Ouvrons grand les Jeux" - "Let's open the Games wide".

That's all very well, but for many it offers up only visions of the suffocating security that surely must go hand-in-hand with any free-for-all.

"Since the end of the Second World War, there has never been such a massive mobilisation of military forces on French soil," declared General Christophe Abad, in charge of the Games' military operations in Paris, last week.

A message that didn't exactly sound comforting.

Just like chief of police Laurent Nunez explaining there was "no clear-cut threat to the Games or to our country" while also admitting concern about "the terrorism threat, especially Islamic terrorism, but also the low-intensity threat from radicalised environmentalists, left-wing extremists, and the pro-Palestinian movement".

30,000 police a day
There will be 30,000 police a day, including armed officers, on duty at the Games. (AP PHOTO)

And that's not even mentioning the potential for more civil protests next month should the far-right National Rally party have success at the snap election on July 7.

Parisians have never been shy about embarking on a good protest, of course.

Like last weekend when many had planned to defecate in the Seine to demonstrate their disgust at the mega-money being spent to clean up a river which is still too mucky for the open water swimmers and triathletes to compete in. As it has been for a century.

The demonstrators - let's call them party poopers - had plotted their movements with military precision at exactly the time the city's mayor Anne Hidalgo was due to have a swim to prove everything was hunky dory.

In the end, neither she nor the protesters got down to their particular business, which was probably just as well.

Come hell or dirty water, though, the Seine is due on July 26 to host the athletes' parade on a flotilla of 85 boats, protected by 35 security vessels and watched by over 325,000 spectators along the banks, amid a 45,000-strong police presence featuring snipers on rooftops.

In the history of the Olympics, there will never have been anything like this, something quite unmissable. Australian tennis doubles star Matt Ebden, for one, told AAP it would be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill just to be on board.

Ah, but hold on. On Monday, the first, complete practice for the opening ceremony, with all the vessels ready to roll, had to be cancelled because of unusually strong currents.

This really does shape as the longest month for organisers of the most ambitious Olympics of all.