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Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Paris tests readiness for the Olympic Games during the opening ceremony rehearsal on the Seine

By meerna Jun17,2024
Paris tests readiness for the Olympic Games during the opening ceremony rehearsal on the Seine

PARIS — A plan to hold the first opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics outside a stadium was put to the test Monday during a technical rehearsal involving a parade of 55 boats along the Seine.

Thierry Reboul, director of ceremonies of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee, said the test run was a success. “The boats and their captains have improved a lot,” Reboul said. On Monday, the main goal was to ensure that the boats strictly adhered to the ceremony schedule. Another trial with a larger fleet is expected to take place early next week.

The July 26 ceremonies pose both logistical and security challenges. Officials canceled planned trials in April and May, saying heavy rains caused water levels to be too high.

Heavy rainfall can also affect river pollution levels. Paris authorities have been working to clean up the Seine enough to use it as a venue for Olympic triathlon and marathon swimming competitions. But test results released Friday by city and regional authorities showed E. coli levels above safe swimming thresholds.

A large police force guarded Monday’s rehearsal on the banks of the river. Police boats sailed along the Seine. However, few spectators followed the intimate test run, which did not differ much from an ordinary day. The parade will feature the usual tourist boats that can often be seen on the Seine.

Anne Fitzgerald, a resident of Paris, said watching the training run was still special to her. “It’s absolutely fantastic,” she said. Until now, “it was just controversy and talk and complaints, and now all of a sudden we see this trial and it puts you in the spirit of what’s going to happen that day.”

Fitzgerald said residents are increasingly feeling the burden of preparations as roads and bridges are closed for stand construction and for safety reasons. But at least for her, the benefits of having a chance to experience the Olympics outweigh the negatives.

“It’s almost like I’m watching the opening ceremony without seeing the opening ceremony,” she said, adding that purchasing a ticket to the event would be too expensive. It will be much more spectacular “than doing it in a stadium,” she said.

The opening ceremonies are expected to be more elaborate than Monday’s practice cruise, with up to 180 boats, 10,000 athletes and 326,000 spectators able to take part from the riverbanks. The plan is for the floating parade to cover more than 3.5 miles through central Paris, from the Austerlitz Bridge to the Eiffel Tower. USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said she expected the team’s athletes would be discouraged from participating in the ceremonies because the ceremonies would require them to stay on their feet for nine hours.

French officials say security will be tight and 45,000 police officers and 18,000 soldiers will be supported by 22,000 private contractors, although private sector leaders have raised concerns about a potential shortage of qualified contractors.

The top priority will be to prevent large-scale terrorist attacks, such as the coordinated suicide bombings and shootings that killed 130 people in Paris in 2015, and the truck that plowed into a crowd in Nice, killing 86 people in 2016. French officials are also sensitive to the need to avoid dangerous crowd crushing.

The Interior Ministry said last month it had arrested an 18-year-old from Chechnya on suspicion of planning an attack on spectators and police at the Olympic soccer games in the French city of Saint-Etienne. This month, an Islamic State-linked website emerged encouraging “lone wolves” to carry out attacks by posting an image of a drone aimed at the Eiffel Tower.

While militant groups may be responsible for some of the threats, Microsoft’s threat intelligence center said the Russian disinformation campaign also aims to discredit the Paris Olympics and promote the notion of an outbreak of violence.

Security concerns clash with France’s ‘Games Wide Open’ promise. Originally, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said more than half a million spectators would be able to attend the opening ceremonies – 100,000 ticket holders on the riverbanks and 500,000 fans watching for free from the upper platforms. But it halved that amount, reserving 104,000 seats for paying fans and 220,000 free tickets earmarked for select residents of Paris and other French cities hosting Olympic events.

The changes reflect “the need to make this ceremony as popular as we can, while taking care of all the details regarding safety and security,” French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra told The Washington Post.

Officials say they still expect record turnout. Previous records hovered around the 100,000 level.

President Emmanuel Macron admitted there is a plan B in case serious security problems arise in the days leading up to the ceremonies. The celebrations could take place on the Trocadero square facing the Eiffel Tower, or be moved to the Stade de France stadium on the outskirts of the city.

On Monday, Oudéa-Castéra said organizers were still focused on Plan A. “There is no reason to change course,” she said.

Particular attention will be paid to the Israeli delegation, which may face its greatest risk since the 1972 Munich Games, when an attack by members of a Palestinian militant group killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

Parisians living or working near river banks in central Paris are among the million people who will undergo security checks by the end of July, French officials say. In recent weeks, French police have been training for potential emergencies and searching the vast network of catacombs beneath the French capital, which is connected to the Seine.

Olympic organizers sought to assure the public that recently announced elections in France and a potential change of government after July 7 would not disrupt planning for the games. Jordan Bardella, who has a chance to become prime minister if his far-right party wins big enough, said he would not make any changes that could affect the Olympics. “This event must be a great success for the nation,” X wrote on the website.

By meerna

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