On Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that the anticipated attendance for this year’s Olympics’ opening ceremony has been reevaluated and now stands at approximately 300,000 people. The unique event is set to unfold as a six-kilometer procession along the River Seine on July 26, marking a historic departure from the traditional venue of a stadium for an Olympic opening ceremony. The parade will take athletes through the heart of Paris, with 160 boats on the river and tens of thousands of fans watching from the sides of the road.
The event will be watched closely for signs of potential extremist attacks. Lone attackers pose the most significant threat as they are challenging to track and can be unpredictable. French police have outlined plans to protect the city and its venues, including closing metro stations in certain areas, banning traffic in some zones, and increasing patrols around iconic landmarks.
Security is the primary concern as France is on high terrorism alert and has seen repeated deadly attacks by Islamist militants. There are fears that the risk of attacks could rise closer to the Games.
Organisers are planning a massive operation. 40,000 police and security personnel will be deployed on inauguration day, and 30,000 will be stationed at 41 competition sites across the country. Two thousand extra police agents will back them brought in from elsewhere in the country, as well as dog-handling teams and divers.
The organizers will also rely on private security, with a tender launched this week to recruit 17,000 to 22,000 guards. Some experts have expressed concerns that they cannot cope with the risk and are struggling to recruit enough.
Another significant issue is ensuring enough transport links in the city during peak tourist season when security threats are high. Transport minister Clement Beaune has already warned that the city is not ready to handle the additional crowds. At the same time, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has defended the decision to hold the event in the city’s center, saying it would be impossible to move the ceremony.
Despite the challenges, the ceremony’s organizers are confident. They argued it was an opportunity for France to show the world its most beautiful side, as the parade would take athletes through the center of Paris and past some of the nation’s most famous monuments. Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet said the opening ceremony will be a spectacular and unique showcase.
The event will feature a new song written for the occasion and dancers, acrobats, and traditional floats. A display of the athletes in the Trocadero area, near the Eiffel Tower, will follow it. The athletes will be led on their parade by their national flag bearers in a homage to the first-ever Olympics. A flotilla of boats carrying the delegations worldwide will then follow. The whole event will end with a finale on the famous esplanade.