The countdown to the Paris Olympics has reached its final year, with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach expressing satisfaction with the preparations. Bach’s comments came after he experienced a preview of the magnificent opening ceremony on July 26, 2024, by sailing down the River Seine. In an official invitation, Bach welcomed 203 countries to participate in the Summer Games, though Russia and its ally Belarus, due to their invasion of Ukraine, were not included on the list. However, the IOC did leave open the possibility for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, without their respective teams, in Paris.
Bach did not disclose when the IOC would make a final determination on the issue but mentioned that many sports federations had already followed the IOC’s call to permit Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals in qualifying events. He stated, “It will depend on the further developments… We will supervise this… based on the result of this we will, at the appropriate time, take a decision.” The potential difficulties were exemplified at the world fencing championships in Milan when Ukrainian fencer Igor Reizlin withdrew from his bout against Russian fencer Vadim Anokhin, in accordance with his government’s policy of prohibiting athletes from competing against Russians.
Ukraine’s sports minister, Vadym Gutzeit, expressed uncertainty about boycotting the Olympics themselves when interviewed by the French newspaper Le Monde. Gutzeit clarified, “We have yet to take a decision concerning the Olympic Games. We are awaiting a final decision and to know if (the Russians and Belarusians) will be authorized to compete or not.” The foreign ministers of Baltic countries, led by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, released a statement reiterating their opposition to allowing Russians and Belarusians to participate, stating, “We call upon the IOC… to uphold its own restrictive measures as long as Russia continues its unprovoked, unjustified, and illegal war of aggression and not let Russian and Belarusian athletes return to the Olympic Games in any status.”
In light of these challenges, the French organizers received a boost this week when luxury brand LVMH announced its sponsorship as a “premium partner” of the Paris Games, taking sponsorship close to the target of 1.24 billion euros ($1.37 billion). A senior member of the organizing committee stated, “We still need a few tens of millions of euros to reach the budget we set, but it’s clearly a very good thing, even if we were confident.” While organizers hope to avoid a recurrence of last summer’s riots following the death of a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, Tony Estanguet, the head of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, conveyed his confidence, stating, “I am very satisfied by the way the project is advancing… that’s why the Games are in 2024 and not 2023.”
Bach echoed the sentiment and expressed his “very, very confident” belief that Paris would be prepared in time for the Paris Olympics. He acknowledged the hard work of the organizing committee and the support they receive from the French president, regional authorities, and the city of Paris, all of which contribute to the confidence that these will be an exceptional Paris Olympics. The opening ceremony, set on the Seine, will set the tone for the Games and marks the first time in Summer Olympics history that it will take place outside a stadium of Paris Olympics. However, securing nearly six kilometers of the river with potentially half a million spectators poses a significant challenge for security forces. An anonymous official acknowledged, “Clearly, it is not something we have ever done… Securing nearly six kilometers of the route with so many people present is a real challenge.”