During a two-day visit to Marseille from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission for the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, the extent to which the Organising Committee is attempting to engage the French population with the Games became evident.
In fact, the whole premise of Paris 2024 revolves around creating an Olympic and Paralympic Games for all of France. Marseille was selected as the location of the Commission’s second visit not only because of its status as a host city for sailing and football, but also because it was in keeping with Paris 2024’s promise to ensure that the Games were not just for the inhabitants of the capital.
"Being here in Marseille is very symbolic," Commission chairman Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant said.
"This is a way for the IOC and the Olympic Movement to make sure everybody realises that when Paris said in its candidacy, 'we want to organise Games that will be for the benefit of all and not just Games that will be restricted to one city', this is true.
"Paris is staying true to this commitment.”
Paris 2024 is tipped to be a “unique” Games because of the number of initiatives planned to involve the French public prior to and during the action. Mass participation events will see ordinary people compete alongside elite athletes, while virtual activities in sports such as sailing, rowing and cycling will show fans a new side of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Efforts to increase involvement is already beginning, with five years to go until the Games begin. A vast number of interactive events are taking place next weekend (June 22 and 23) to celebrate Olympic Day, including demonstrations, taster sessions and meet-the-athlete opportunities.
Whether any of this will have the desired effect is a topic for another blog post. The discussion regarding public engagement made me consider my recent experience at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, however, currently taking place in the same country.
A few days prior to the Commission’s visit to Marseille, I was in Nice for the Group D battle between England and Scotland. The match had a disappointing attendance of 13,188 in the 35,100-capacity Allianz Riviera. FIFA claimed 11,323 tickets had been sold to United Kingdom postcodes and a further 2,000 had been distributed via the Football Association and Scottish Football Association.
This suggests the vast majority of the spectators in Nice that night were English or Scottish and not local. Why weren’t there more French spectators at the match, when tickets were priced as low as €9 (£8/$10)? Games that feature the French team have been sell-outs, while attendance figures at other matches have been between 10,000 to 20,000, suggesting locals are not attending other fixtures in great numbers.
This is because the Women’s World Cup is not being adequately promoted in France. An air of apathy and indifference seems to surround the event. This attitude is in stark contrast to the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, who are going to great pains to spread the word all over the country.
Flying into Nice Airport, there was no sign the city was hosting a substantial number of Women's World Cup matches. Not a single piece of advertising was visible and the same has been said about Paris, which held the opening game of the tournament between France and South Korea.
During my week in France, matches were hard to come by on free-to-air television, with only a select few broadcast on TF1. These were mainly the games featuring France, but they were not given the full matchday treatment. Instead there was only a 10-minute build-up, with no studio of pundits analysing the match. The broadcast went straight to the commentators’ box, with all 15 minutes of half-time filled with adverts.
The fan zone in Nice was disappointing and did not feature a big screen where locals and visitors could gather and enjoy the matches together. After asking a waiter at a restaurant in Nice if he could put the clash between Canada and Cameroon on, he responded that they did not have the required channel as it was too expensive.
The situation was worse in Marseille, which is not a host city for the tournament. You could probably spend a whole week there oblivious to the fact a Women's World Cup was on. The disconnect from an event happening in another location is exactly what Paris 2024 is looking to avoid.
French fans may have filled stadiums and turned the TV on to watch their team, but a lack of effort on the part of the organisers means the country does not appear engaged with the tournament as a whole.
Interest in the Women's World Cup may yet pick up as the tournament progresses, while Paris 2024's plans could prove unrealistic as time goes on. At the moment though, it appears the organisers of the 2024 Games are on track to avoid the mistakes of their counterparts in charge of the current major sporting event in France.