The world’s biggest sporting event is coming to Paris. Not everyone’s happy

The date is set, venues have been chosen, tickets are on sale.

One hundred years after the Olympics last graced the streets of Paris, the city is braced for the return of the world’s largest sporting event next summer.

While organizers and the French government claim that it’ll be the most inclusive games yet, a growing chorus of voices isn’t convinced.

Accessibility is a main concern, both financially due to the eye-watering cost of tickets, and for disabled people who worry about navigating Paris’ decades-old transport infrastructure.

Olympic games, titanic prices

Flavien Lallemand had barely made it on the Paris 2024 ticketing site, before deciding it wasn’t worth it.

“It’s a shame, it’s being done in our city, it’s just next door, we’ll be bothered by all the visitors etc; we’ll be impacted but we won’t have the positive sides,” he said, adding that he’ll likely end up watching the games on TV at home.

Many French people have taken to social media to protest the cost of tickets, complaining that those available are were well beyond average budgets.

It’s an embarrassing distraction for the games organizers, who have trumpeted the events accessibility credentials.

“Paris 2024 will be the first Games to focus on solidarity and inclusivity,” boasts their official site.

The cheapest tickets for the main games were put on sale from 24 euros ($26), with Paralympic tickets sold from 15 euros ($16). However, these tickets were limited in number and often were for tournaments like basketball or soccer taking place in other French cities. By the time many sports fans were able to purchase tickets, more affordable options were often scarce.

Unlike past Games, Paris 2024 set up a “games pack” purchase system. Members of the public were asked to sign up for a lottery draw for the chance to buy tickets. From mid-March, when sales started, lottery winners had a 48-hour window to buy tickets from a minimum of three events, reserving the same number of tickets for each session.

For those hoping to see just one sport, it meant potentially tripling their budget, although organizers have promised to allow resale of unwanted tickets next spring.

“The price makes me sick,” European medalist and former Olympic gymnast Marine Debauve said of the 690 euros ($742) that tickets to a gymnastics final event would cost her.

“It may be easier to participate in the Olympics than see it as a spectator in my own country,” she said on Facebook, echoing the anger of current athletes at not being able to secure tickets for their families.

He said the ticketing was “really exorbitant,” especially for what “is fundamentally an affordable sport for all and accessible, and there aren’t great stars.”

“We know there’s much more demand than supply,” regarding tickets, Estanguet added.

Some 10% of the approximately 10 million tickets on sale for the games are priced at 24 euros, with half on sale for under 50 euros ($54). Organizers say the Games’ pricing isn’t more expensive than the London 2012 Olympics.

In contrast to past Games, the Paris 2024 opening ceremony will be held along a stretch of the River Seine, which crosses the city, offering unprecedented (and mostly free) access to the competition’s overture.

Even so, the best views of the floating parade from the river banks will be ticketed, with some spots on sale for as much as 2,700 euros ($2,900).

Obstacles to entry

Paris 2024 organizers have boasted that inclusion is at the heart of the project and that the Paralympic Games next September will be the “most accessible ever,” styling itself as a leader in accessibility. One half of the official mascot pair – two smiling Phrygian caps – sports a prosthetic leg, the first mascot to do so, according to organizers.

“It’s a strong message to have a mascot with a visible disability,” Estanguet said last November when the mascots were revealed, adding that the imagery promotes a message of inclusion and value for disabled people in society.

But that’s little relief for disabled visitors, who will have few accessible ways to get around the city.

Paris’ more-than-century-old metro network, riddled with staircases and lacking in elevators, is notoriously inaccessible for disabled passengers.

President Emmanuel Macron announced in April that the government would spend 1.5 billion euros to improve disabled access across France and committed to making the Games “100% accessible” to people with reduced mobility.

Disability rights activist Stephane Lenoir is “rather worried” about disabled access around Paris for the Games, with one line “far too little” to serve the needs of the disabled community.

Currently, only one metro line is entirely step-free, the M14 line that traverses the city. Only an estimated 10% of the network’s 332 stations will be accessible for wheelchair users by the Games.

Compare that to London, where ahead of the 2012 Games, the city ensured step-free access for around a quarter of stations in the Tube – the name for the London Underground – despite it being far deeper that Paris’ and the world’s oldest network. In Tokyo too, home to the postponed 2021 Games, more than 95% of metro stations were step-free in 2020.

Organizers have promised shuttle buses between Paris’ main train stations and Games venues, but Lenoir is worried about a lack of information about bus access and capacity, especially for families traveling with disabled ticket-holders.

Nicolas Merille, from APF France Handicap, a national disability rights association, blamed the difficulties on France’s approach to accessibility in general.

Disabled people “are perceived as social and medical cases, they are not considered as citizens,” he said.

“Wheelchair travel is always made precarious, with no guarantee of trouble-free travel,” Merille said.

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