PARIS – The Olympics is on track to be back in business with millions of visitors coming to Paris for the 2024 Games.
The French capital has the expert experience to stage the event and welcome guests for the first Olympics of the post-pandemic era.
That should be a relief after a chaotic lead-in to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and uncertainty from postponing the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with no guarantee it would eventually happen one year later. It did, but in almost entirely empty venues.
Organizers, athletes and fans preparing for competitions in Paris — and regional French cities like Lille and Marseille, plus the far-away surfing venue of Tahiti in the South Pacific — can be confident the show will go on.
Here’s a look at what we can expect from the 2024 Paris Olympics:
WHAT ABOUT TICKETS?
About 10 million tickets were made available for the Paris Olympics with 329 medal events in 32 different sports spread across 18 different days of competition.
Close to 7 million have already been sold with one year to go before the opening ceremony on July 26.
Organizers are directly selling about 8 million tickets with the promise that 1 million will be available for all sports priced at 24 euros ($26), and many more costing 50 euros ($55) or less.
Would-be buyers had to register for the chance to be allocated tickets in the first two sales phases but the current wave is first-come, first-served for events in cities outside Paris.
That could mean seeing arguably France’s two biggest stars: top NBA draft pick Victor Wembanyama in Lille and soccer great Kylian Mbappé in Marseille and Nice.
Lille, about three hours northeast of Paris, will stage all the group games in basketball at its soccer stadium. The cheapest seats at 50 euros ($55) remain for women’s games but expect now to pay 120-200 euros ($133-$221) to see a men’s game.
Mbappé wants to play for France as one of its three overage players in what is an under-23 tournament for men, and seats for 30 euros ($33) were available this week for its two scheduled group games in Marseille. The first is on July 24 when Olympic events start two days ahead of the opening ceremony. Expect to pay at least 50 euros ($55) to see France in Nice on July 27.
Soccer games will also be played in Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes and Saint-Etienne as well as in Paris, at the Parc des Princes.
Those city authorities have an allocation of tickets among the remaining 2 million of the 10 million that also includes the hospitality program, plus the “Olympic Family” — national sponsors of Paris and global sponsors of the IOC, broadcast rights holders and sports bodies.
Hospitality prices start at 85 euros ($94) and run to 11,000 euros ($12,200) for a prime spot by the River Seine to see the athletes sail by in the opening ceremony.
With general tickets to that riverside ceremony already sold out, “the only way to attend these events will be through the official hospitality program,” On Location said this week. That's also the case for sailing races in Marseille.
Also sold out are hospitality tickets at iconic venues for judo — staged next to the Eiffel Tower in a temporary venue and featuring one of France’s greatest modern athletes, Teddy Riner — and equestrian in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
IS THERE ROOM FOR EVERYONE?
Paris touted its large and diverse accommodation options — everything from campsites along the River Seine to some of the world’s most famous luxury hotels — when it was bidding for the Olympics, boasting that it has “more than sufficient accommodation" to host France's first Summer Games in a century and millions of visitors.
The Paris region has France's greatest concentration of hotel accommodation, its 160,000 rooms making up one-quarter of the country's total of 640,000. Nearly 90% of Paris region hotels are classed two stars or above. Adding rented accommodation, campsites and other options, the Paris tourism office says the region has a total of 261,800 rooms for the Olympics, which is considerably more than it had in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic ebbed, Paris once again became a top tourist destination. Visitor numbers so far this year are now very close to their pre-pandemic levels.
The city’s tourism office predicts that up to 15.9 million people could visit the Paris region during the July-September period that includes the Olympics and Paralympic Games.
That would be busier than Paris has been used to since the pandemic but not ridiculously so. The tourism office expects the region will still have rooms available, predicting occupancy rates of between 56% and 76%. That would be either a little bit less or somewhat more than the 61% occupancy at the same period in 2019.
“There is not going to be an accommodation crisis. There shouldn’t be people arriving and saying, ‘My God, we can’t find a place to stay in Paris,’” said Pierre Rabadan, City Hall’s vice mayor for Olympic planning.
Many Parisians leave for summer vacations in July or August and officials expect the same to happen next year, further helping to make space.
Some Parisians are hoping to make a mint by renting out their homes. On Airbnb, many hundreds of dollars per night are being asked for apartments. In the 11th district of Paris, a 1-bedroom apartment with two beds that was asking for 99 euros ($110) per night for four people this summer from July 26 to Aug. 2 is asking 877 euros ($972) per night for the same period during the Olympics.
HOW WILL OLYMPIC VISITORS GET AROUND?
The Olympics and Paris' transport network upon which the 2024 Games are relying have an intertwined history dating back over a century. The city's first Metro service, Line 1 from Porte Maillot in the west to Porte de Vincennes in the east, was opened during the 1900 Paris Olympics as part of the World Exhibition that the French capital hosted that year.
Next year, public transport is again expected to play a starring role. Organizers are counting on spectators to rely overwhelmingly on the Paris region's dense network of Metro lines, suburban trains, buses and other transport to help the Olympics reach its target of halving its carbon footprint compared to previous editions.
Some of the transport promises that organizers made have fallen by the wayside.
They shelved a pledge that ticketed spectators would travel on public transport for free to competition sites in Paris and beyond, opting instead to save themselves an estimated 44.7 million euros ($50 million).
An express train they said would whisk visitors from Paris' main international airport, Charles de Gaulle, to the center of the city in 20 minutes is not now slated to open before 2027.
Another line under construction, Metro 17, that organizers said would transport athletes in 30 minutes from the airport to their accommodation in Paris' northern outskirts also won't be ready, with a first stretch not now scheduled to open before 2026.
But a newly extended Metro service, Line 14, from Paris' second major airport, Orly, to an Olympic hub in the northern outskirts that includes the athletes village, main stadium and an aquatics center remains on schedule to open a month before the Olympics.
Transport operators are gearing up to carry between 600,000 to 800,000 Olympic visitors per day, “it’s like being in a permanent rush hour,” said Transport Minister Clement Beaune.
Paris' regional transport operator is promising extra trains as well as shuttle buses where needed, including for people with disabilities, for the 31 competition venues in the French capital and its surrounds.
“It's a major challenge. We've never had an operation like this,” Beaune said. “We will be ready.”
Paris is also using the Olympics to further its progress as an increasingly bike-friendly city, adding more lanes to its cycle network. City Hall says there will be at least 3,000 more bikes for hire and spaces to park 10,000 bikes close to venues.
WHAT WEATHER TO EXPECT?
World record heat has been a global theme in July 2023 and the European summer does not figure to cool down next year.
Measures to control extreme heat were not much on the minds of Paris officials when bidding for the Olympics in 2017. They are now.
“Obviously since the candidacy, we have worked a lot on these subjects,” organizing committee CEO Etienne Thobois said this month, “because we now realize that it’s becoming a near certainty that we will have high temperatures in the summer of 2024 in Paris.”
Thobois said organizers must be “very, very vigilant” to find a balance between compensating for the heat felt by athletes and workers against the need to control the games’ carbon footprint.
Air-conditioning was not planned in the design of the $1.1 billion athletes village being built in Saint-Denis, though that is not unusual for a city in central or northern Europe.
Paris temperatures have peaked at 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) this July and often rose to 30 degrees C (86 degrees F).
When similar temperatures hit the first week of the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, the actual heat index on the field of play was higher.
On the tennis court in Tokyo, the temperatures felt like 37 degrees C (99 degrees F) and heatstroke forced Paula Badosa to retire from her women’s singles quarterfinal match and leave the arena in a wheelchair.
Asked last week about a Parisian heatwave, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach noted “we have some very good experience with our heat mitigation measures in Tokyo where we were already facing these problems.”
For Tokyo, the IOC pressed World Athletics to move the marathons out of the city and seek cooler early mornings in coastal Sapporo.
The Paris marathons will start and finish in the city and take runners on uphill sections toward historic Versailles.
Students of the history of France, Paris and sports itself can feast on the places the Olympics will take them.
While the marathons will head to Versailles, equestrian events will actually be held in the grand grounds of the royal palace where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lived and the victors of World War I led by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson gathered in 1919 and redrew many borders on the global map.
Place de la Concorde, where both Louis and Marie Antoinette were beheaded, will stage the Olympic debut of breakdancing, and other urban youth sports skateboarding, BMX freestyle and 3-on-3 basketball.
One hundred years after hosting track and field plus other sports at the 1924 Paris Olympics, Colombes Stadium in the northwest suburbs will this time stage field hockey.
Colombes is one of two 2024 Olympic venues to have staged soccer’s biggest game, the men’s World Cup final. Its turn was in 1938, while Stade de France saw the host nation triumph in 1998. Stade de France will stage track and field, rugby sevens and the Aug. 11 closing ceremony.
The Eiffel Tower will dominate the opening ceremony on July 26 as thousands of athletes are carried on fleets of boats along the Seine river toward the city’s defining landmark.
Dunbar reported from Geneva.