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France faces serious hurdles in the race to create a meaningful legacy

  • Written by Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy, SKEMA Business School
France faces serious hurdles in the race to create a meaningful legacy

Paris hosting[1] the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer provides France with a huge geopolitical opportunity. Staging the world’s biggest sporting mega-event can boost a nation’s image[2], change perceptions of it, and help it project soft power[3] around the globe.

Former French president François Hollande was credited[4] with instigating the successful bid to stage the 2024 Games, 100 years after Paris was last host in 1924. But it is Emmanuel Macron who has enjoyed taking up the mantle in his quest to present a new vision of France.

Some believe Macron being president[5] was just what the Games needed, given his apparent quest[6] to transform France into a more outward-looking, progressive nation. Indeed, Macron has proved adept at playing soft power games through sport[7] (including his efforts to keep the footballer Kylian Mbappé[8] playing in France).

And certain features of the upcoming Games certainly look progressive, from breakdancing and BMX racing events on the Place de la Concorde, to swimmers in the River Seine, and androgynous mascots[9]. All of these elements seem to illustrate how Paris wants the world to see it – as open, welcoming and contemporary – and reflect Macron’s promise to be[10] a “revolutionary in a suit”.

But this is where France’s Olympic plans may begin to unravel. Because many see Macron as more of a discordant disruptor[11] than a great reformer.

Even at the best of times, many French people resent[12] the Paris-centric nature of their country. Such a bright spotlight on the capital this summer may accentuate that sentiment, and be exploited by Macron’s political rivals on the right[13].

At the same time, Macron and his Renaissance party have caused consternation among some groups recently. For example, a ban on France’s Olympic squad members wearing hijabs was widely criticised[14], and domestic social division could yet blight the Parisian summer of sport.

Olympic mascot toy.

Nowhere in Paris is social division more evident than in the northern suburbs[16] of the capital city, which is also the location of the Stade de France, the athletes’ village, and several other Olympic facilities.

Government officials are hoping[17] the event will deliver an economic boon and lead to the regeneration of districts such as Saint-Denis[18].

But some observers remain sceptical[19], believing that the Olympics is the last thing people in Saint-Denis need, given that they have the lowest average standard of living[20] in mainland France.

Others highlight the high rates of crime[21] in northern Paris, evidence of which was seen when Liverpool fans were attacked[22] at the 2022 Uefa Champions League final. And despite much talk of Parisian style and a fresh start for “brand France”, the capital now has an unfortunate reputation for street crime[23].

The Olympics was supposed to be a way of changing perceptions[24], but whether the event does so remains to be seen.

Read more: Panic, horror and chaos: what went wrong at the Champions League final – and what needs to be done to make football safer[25]

What we do know is that the overzealous response of local police witnessed at the 2022 final and the ticketing failures that led to it, cannot be repeated. If they are, France’s international reputation would be seriously undermined.

Making Olympic host cities secure is always a major challenge. But following mass protests[26], riots[27] and terrorist attacks[28] over the last decade, Paris’ problems seem especially acute. Yet this is only one of several issues that have dogged its Olympic preparations.

Concerns are still being raised[29] that the Seine is too dirty to swim in, despite months of trying to clean it up. To prove the river’s safety, the mayor of Paris offered to swim in it[30]. Later, President Macron said he was prepared to do the same[31].

Swimmers in the River Seine.
Testing the water. EPA-EFE/TERESA SUAREZ[32]

Elsewhere, in a city that struggles to cope with traffic density, transport arrangements and problems with accommodation are worrying some officials as the Olympics approaches. In addition to ongoing claims that hotels are infested with bed bugs[33], there are accommodation shortages while the rental value of apartments has soared[34] in recent months.

Meanwhile, public transport ticket prices will almost double[35] and tourism taxes in hotels will triple[36] ahead of the Games. Some industry groups feel the latter will damage their businesses[37] as well as France’s image overseas.

By the end of September, it could be that many people across the world have a much more positive view of France and its capital city. If so, Macron will take much credit for the international view of his country.

But he’s not on the podium yet. Problems are mounting that could well undermine one of the president’s cornerstone projects in projecting his vision of a new France.


  1. ^ Paris hosting (
  2. ^ boost a nation’s image (
  3. ^ soft power (
  4. ^ was credited (
  5. ^ Macron being president (
  6. ^ apparent quest (
  7. ^ soft power games through sport (
  8. ^ Kylian Mbappé (
  9. ^ androgynous mascots (
  10. ^ promise to be (
  11. ^ discordant disruptor (
  12. ^ French people resent (
  13. ^ rivals on the right (
  14. ^ widely criticised (
  16. ^ northern suburbs (
  17. ^ officials are hoping (
  18. ^ Saint-Denis (
  19. ^ remain sceptical (
  20. ^ lowest average standard of living (
  21. ^ high rates of crime (
  22. ^ fans were attacked (
  23. ^ street crime (
  24. ^ changing perceptions (
  25. ^ Panic, horror and chaos: what went wrong at the Champions League final – and what needs to be done to make football safer (
  26. ^ protests (
  27. ^ riots (
  28. ^ terrorist attacks (
  29. ^ still being raised (
  30. ^ swim in it (
  31. ^ prepared to do the same (
  33. ^ bed bugs (
  34. ^ has soared (
  35. ^ almost double (
  36. ^ will triple (
  37. ^ damage their businesses (

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