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Paris Olympics drawn into France's election wrestle


June 14, 2024 10:40 PM

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The Paris Olympics, supposedly apolitical and carrying a message of unity, have been drawn into the bitter campaign for France's snap parliamentary elections, risking further dismay for organisers.

Preparations for the July 26-August 11 Games have been overshadowed by the country's political turmoil after French President Emmanuel Macron stunned the country by calling snap elections last Sunday.

The 46-year-old head of state suggested that France's role as host of the world's largest sporting event next month would encourage voters to back his embattled ruling centrist party instead of "people who are not prepared."

"I don't think they (voters) want Olympic Games that look bad," Macron told reporters on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in Italy on Thursday evening.

"French people are concerned about the image of France, in its ability to welcome the world," Macron added.

He has sought to cast the election as a choice between his centrist allies and two extremes comprising a new left-wing alliance on one side, and the far-right party of Marine Le Pen on the other.

Le Pen's National Rally (RN) party is leading in the polls, although overall seat projections are difficult to make for the 577-member National Assembly because of the complexity of the country's electoral system.

"I have total confidence in the state services for the organisation of the 2024 Olympics," Jordan Bardella, the RN's candidate to be prime minister, wrote on X on Friday.

"If we win the parliamentary elections, I will not change the arrangements that have been in place for several months. This event must be a major success for the nation," he added.


 Just as the Paris 2024 organising committee was hoping to build excitement ahead of the July 26 opening ceremony, French people have instead been gripped by the spectacle of their politicians' manoeuvring this week.

The jousting led the head of the main centre-right Republicans party to lock himself in his office to hide from colleagues, while jockeying on the left has resulted in a new left-wing coalition.

"The intrusion of politics into the organisation of the Games is not a good thing," the head of the Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, told reporters on Thursday.

Inside the organising committee, many workers were left stunned by Macron's decision to call the elections so close to the start of an event that has been in the works for the last seven years.

"We'd prepared for lots of possible scenarios, but I don't think this one was even on the list," one of them told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The important thing is to not have any riots or clashes," a source close to French security forces added, also on condition of anonymity.

Sebastian Coe, chief organiser of the London 2012 Olympics, expressed his sympathies for his Paris 2024 counterpart Tony Estanguet.

"I'm not sure I would have wanted a general election three weeks out from the start of London, but that's what's happening, and they will come through it," Coe, who is head of World Athletics, told an audience at the British embassy in Paris on Wednesday.


 The elections on June 30 and July 7 could lead to more political instability if no group wins a clear majority, or a seismic change if the National Rally emerges as the biggest party nationally and enters government.

The International Olympic Committee, which seeks to keep the Games out of politics, has sought to reassure observers.

"We are not concerned, for a good reason," its head, Thomas Bach, told reporters on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

During a visit to France on Monday, he had seen "the unity among the political parties ... that France presents itself at its best on the occasion of these Olympic games," he said.

Others worry about the prospect of France having its first far-right government since World War II -- just as it is hosting an event intended to promote harmony, world peace and friendship across borders.

"On the occasion of these games, France has a message to send to the world: the spirit of openness, universalism, respect for diversity," Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told reporters on Thursday.


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