08 May 2024, 12:31

150,000 people expected as Olympic flame arrives in France

  MARSEILLE, May 8, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The Olympic flame arrives in France on

Wednesday where a highly choreographed ceremony and a crowd of 150,000 people
will be a first major test for organisers and security forces ahead of the
2024 Paris Games.

The transfer of the flame onshore in the southern port of Marseille will mark
the start of a 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) torch relay across mainland
France and the country's far-flung overseas territories.

Organisers are hoping the first public spectacle of their much-hyped "iconic"
Olympics -- just 79 days away -- will help build excitement after a damaging
row about ticket prices and ongoing concerns about security.

"It's something we've been waiting for for a very long time," chief organiser
Tony Estanguet told reporters on Monday. "It's here. One hundred years after
the last Games, the Games are coming home."

When the Paris opening ceremony begins on July 26, it will be the first time
the city has played host for a century after previous editions in 1924 and

France sees itself at the heart of the modern Olympic movement after a French
aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the idea of the Games as practised
by the Greeks until the 4th century BC.

After the Covid-hit edition in Tokyo in 2021 and the corruption-tainted Rio
de Janeiro version in 2016, the Paris Olympics are seen as an important
moment for the sporting extravaganza as a whole.

A measure of public excitement will come when the flame is handed over on
Wednesday evening from the Belem, a historic 19th-century French tall ship
that has made a 12-day trip from Greece.

"We are going to do beautiful, grandiose, sober and accessible at the same
time," Marseille mayor Benoit Payan promised ahead of the ceremony, while
recalling how his gritty port city was founded by Greek traders in 600 BC.

- 'Beautiful, grandiose' -

Over 1,000 other boats will accompany the Belem's approach to the harbour and
organisers expect around 150,000 people to witness the flame come ashore in
the revamped Marseille marina, which will host the sailing events during the

Fireworks and a free concert will complete the show which will be broadcast
live on French TV.

In the background, around 6,000 members of the security forces are expected
to be on duty as part of extensive security plans put in place at a time when
the country is on its highest terror alert.

"It's completely unprecedented for the national police to mobilise so many
people on the same day at the same place," regional police coordinator Cedric
Esson told reporters on Monday.

The honour of being the first torch bearer will fall to four-time Olympic
medal-winning swimmer Florent Manaudou.

Other stars scheduled to take part in the parade, which continues in
Marseille on Thursday, include NBA-winning basketball player Tony Parker and
footballer Didier Drogba, as well as charity and entertainment figures.

One beach-cleaning charity has boycotted the ceremony to protest Olympics
sponsor Coca-Cola, while there is no scheduled role for Marseille's most
famous sporting son, football legend Zinedine Zidane.

- Opening ceremony -

Extremely tight security will be a constant feature as the torch travels
through more than 450 French towns and cities, and passes by dozens of
tourist attractions including the Mont Saint Michel.

Around 200 security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it,
including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has referred to the risk of protests,
including from far-left groups or environmental activists such as Extinction

Organisers have promised a "spectacular" and "iconic" Olympics, with much of
the sport set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light
including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

In the absence of a much-feared security scare, the opening ceremony will
take place in boats on the river Seine in a radical departure from past Games
which have opened in the main stadium.

All of the major infrastructure has been completed with only two new
permanent sporting venues built in a bid to reduce the financial cost and
carbon emissions of the global extravaganza.

The idea of the torch rally harks back to the ancient Olympics when a sacred
flame burned throughout the Games.

The Paris Olympics will run from July 26-August 11, followed by the
Paralympics from August 28-September 8.


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