Emmanuel Macron says Olympics opening ceremony may be moved due to security fears

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games are set to open with a unique 6km parade down the River Seine, but security worries are increasing

Luke Baker
Monday 15 April 2024 16:52 BST
Emmanuel Macron says law-enforcement agencies will be mobilised at an exceptional level
Emmanuel Macron says law-enforcement agencies will be mobilised at an exceptional level (via Reuters)

The opening ceremony for this summer’s Olympic Games, currently set to be held on the River Seine, could be moved if the security risk is deemed to be too great, according to French president Emmanuel Macron.

France is on high security alert ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, which are expected to draw millions of visitors to the country. Security concerns are notably high for the opening ceremony, which involves boats carrying athletes along the Seine on a 6km parade while huge crowds watch from its banks.

The Stade de France is now being proposed as a potential alternative venue, as a contained stadium is considerably easier to police than miles of exposed riverbank.

Speaking to French media outlets BFM-TV and RMC, Mr Macron said France’s law-enforcement agencies will be mobilised at an exceptional level for the security of the open-air event, but explained: “If we think there are risks, depending on our analysis of the context, we have fallback scenarios. There are plan Bs and plan Cs.”

The event, which will take place on 26 July, is set to be the first Olympic opening ceremony held outside of a stadium setting, with around 10,500 athletes parading through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine. The water-borne procession will end in front of the Trocadero.

To limit the security risk, Mr Macron said organisers could decide to shorten the itinerary of the parade on the Seine, or even “repatriate the ceremony to the Stade de France” for a more conventional opening event.

The initial plan was a grandiose opening ceremony for as many as 600,000 people, most watching free of charge from the riverbanks, but security and logistical concerns have led the French government to progressively scale back its ambitions.

The Olympic opening ceremony is slated to highlight many of Paris’s most famous sights (AP)

Earlier this year, the overall number of spectators was reduced to around 300,000, and it has also been decided that tourists won’t be given free access to watch the opening ceremony, because of security concerns. Free access will be invitation-only instead.

However, Mr Macron insisted that, for now, the plans remain the same. “It’s a world first. We can do it and we will do it,” he said.

France has suffered a number of deadly attacks carried out by Isis, including the Bataclan theatre massacre in 2015 in which extremists opened fire on concert-goers and held hostages. French troops have also fought against Islamist extremists in the Middle East and Africa.

Last month, the French government increased its security alert to the highest level following a fatal attack at a Russian concert hall for which Isis claimed responsibility.

Mr Macron said that security perimeters will be installed “days, even weeks” before the opening ceremony. He added that road traffic in the high-security zone will be brought to a standstill and that French authorities will use “drone systems, coding, cyber protection” in their safeguarding efforts.

Answering a viewer who expressed concerns about her son attending the opening ceremony, Mr Macron said: “If there’s one place where your son will be safe, it’s here.”

“There are always risks in life,” he added. “And we see it every day, unfortunately. But we’ve given ourselves the means to [deal with] it.”

Macron has promised that fans will be safe at the Paris Olympics (AFP/Getty)

During the hour-long interview, Mr Macron also said he wants “to do everything possible to have an Olympic truce” for the Paris Games, amid the risk of an escalating conflict in the Middle East, Russia’s war in Ukraine – now in its third year – and the situation in Sudan, which is hurtling towards a large-scale calamity of starvation and death after a year-long war.

The Olympic truce is a modern revival of the ancient Greek tradition to ensure that warring city-states allowed safe passage for athletes to the Games. Every two years, the host country of the forthcoming Olympics introduces a UN resolution that other member states can co-sponsor.

“We want to work towards an Olympic truce, and I think it is an occasion for me to engage with a lot of our partners,” Mr Macron said, adding that he would ask Chinese leader Xi Jinping to weigh in and use his influence. “The Chinese president is coming to Paris in a few weeks, and I’m going to ask him to help me. This is a diplomatic moment of peace.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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