NEWS

Bringing people together: A bid for the 2012 Games

The man who turned the banks of the River Seine into sandy beaches to bring his city’s people together is adding one more challenge, this time to bring the world to Paris. Mayor Bernard Delanoe is president of the Paris 2012 board committee, a government-based interest group promoting a bid for the Summer Games. Its competitors are big names: New York, London, Madrid and Moscow. An experienced manager and member of the Socialist Party, who once ran his own company, Delanoe was in Athens for the opening of the Games and will be back this weekend for the closing ceremony. He met with Kathimerini English Edition during his visit. The main question for every one of the bidding cities is what that particular city can offer in terms of the Olympics. «The search for excellence, performance, quality, combined with professionalism and good management – I don’t want any waste,» Delanoe said. «But I also believe the soul of Paris will offer something to the Olympic family,» he said. «Paris doesn’t belong to Paris, it belongs to the world, irrespective of religion, skin color and other differences.» He had glowing praise for the opening of the Athens Games. «The 21st century is a barbaric century, a century of war and hatred. The Games is a moment of feeling and sharing. I’ve never heard the Olympic Hymn sung so beautifully as at the Athens opening ceremony,» said Delanoe. «My overall impression was one of great happiness, because the sport idea was present, the athletes were the stars of the celebration. At the same time there was a lot of emotion, moments of great beauty and public participation. I watched the ceremony alongside colleagues, mayors of other cities, but at the same time I was in the middle of a cheering crowd of 70,000.» But even as brilliant fireworks illuminated the Athenian sky, the issue of doping hung like a dark cloud over the opening and has continued to do so over the course of the Games. Delanoe was clear on the issue. «I fully support IOC President Jacques Rogge. He wants to put morality and discipline back into this amazing dream which is Olympism,» said Delanoe. «It’s too beautiful to destroy, so, if one has to be severe on doping, on the moral issues, then he’s right.» Delanoe shows no weaknesses managing the French capital, calling for tight management of municipal funds, increased investments and no tax increases (figures point to a 30-million euro expenditure reduction every year). Since his election in March 2001, the mayor’s priority has been to facilitate city life for citizens through improved public transport and less pollution, for instance, while developing original projects such as Paris Plage (Paris Beach). Already in its third season, the beach project is as popular as ever and has inspired other municipalities around the country to follow suit. Thanks to such projects, Delanoe says, the city has become more tolerant and confident. «I don’t take care of all the problems; I bring people together,» said Delanoe. «We should not be enclosed in ghettos, we should be together and in order to do this we have to respect each other’s identity and religion.» The politics of religion is also getting a revamp in Paris nowadays: Christian and Jewish celebrations organized by the Paris municipality in the past, for instance, have now been joined by Muslim festivities. «Nowadays Muslims celebrate Ramadan, but they are joined by rabbis,» said Delanoe. «What divides us is what brings us together.» The city is also increasingly safe for visitors. According to Delanoe, after 3 million visitors visited the city in 2003 the most serious reported case of crime was a stolen mobile phone. While the Paris 2012 campaign’s «L’Amour des Jeux» (Love of the Games) mantra shows official enthusiasm, this is supported by a well-constructed bid. The proposed Olympic Village covers 50 hectares in the city’s northwest, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the celebrated Champs Elysees avenue and between two clusters of competition venues at the city’s northern and western gates. Linking the broader Olympic area is the peripherique (ring road). Paris is the home of the Stade de France (built in the hopes of hosting the Olympics one day), while more than 95 percent of infrastructure and accommodation requirements for the Paris Games are in place. How much does Paris want the 2012 Games? «More than ever. Paris wants the Games with a passion. The city is trying to put all of its heart, all of its professionalism in its proposal, so that this proposal is an offer of performance and feeling,» said Delanoe «If we get the Games it will be a formidable opportunity for accelerated urban development and fairness. This is because our idea of the Olympic Village is to be impeccable during the Games, but also a comfortable heritage in aid of the less fortunate.»