The Greek making sure the Paris Games come off without a hitch

Lambis Konstantinidis, director of planning and coordination for the events, talks to Kathimerini about the behind-the-scenes preparations

The Greek making sure the Paris Games come off without a hitch

Athletes are counting down the days to the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, there are some who are counting not just the days but also the seconds, as even those have value. One such person is Lambis Konstantinidis, the director of planning and coordination for both events. A title that comes with thousands of responsibilities and obligations.

From Saint-Denis, where the headquarters of the Games are located, to the Panathenaic Stadium in the Greek capital and back to France. In recent months, each day in Konstantinidis’ life should have had more than 24 hours. Meetings, discussions and decisions must be made in a very short time because, in the case of an international sports event, according to “chaos theory,” a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can cause rain in China, which in turn can affect some aspect of the Games.

the-greek-making-sure-the-paris-games-come-off-without-a-hitch0“I started working on the bid file in 2015, and since 2017, I have been responsible for the coordination and coherence of the team. We need to keep the project’s pace and adjust it according to international developments,” he tells Kathimerini in an interview, and when we ask him to give some examples, he replies: “Ukraine produces steel, which we use for platforms etc. We had contracts, but for a last-minute quantity, the price had changed. A way had to be found so this wouldn’t affect the budget. We have ordered products from the East, and due to the conflict in the Middle East, the ships transporting them are delayed. But solutions must be found. The concepts of ‘time’ and ‘money’ are inelastic. As far as money is concerned, sponsors can be found. However, time cannot be changed because the Games will start on a specific date. These days, the daily work schedule starts at 6.30 in the morning and ends after 10 at night. During the Games, the operations center will work 24 hours a day because surfing competitions will be held in Tahiti, which is in a different timezone, while other events, such as the triathlon, will start early in the morning.”

Fully prepared

Currently, 2,000 people work for the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee. During the Games, this number will reach 4,500, but the total number of people working in all the different sectors (e.g. security) will exceed 150,000. “Our job is to be concerned about everything. From security and transportation to a potential epidemic or a geopolitical or political crisis. There must be plans to address every eventuality. We need to think about what could go wrong and find ways to fix it or manage it. We have worked very hard to see how we will handle possible crises. We are trying to be fully prepared. The cooperation with the state and municipal authorities is excellent. They stand by us professionally,” Konstantinidis says.

The Paris Olympics will be the first Games where a city will be integrated into them. Iconic landmarks will serve as sports venues, and the City of Light will attempt to set an example for future Olympics. But what are the peculiarities and difficulties in such an ambitious plan?

“The biggest peculiarity was to hold the Paris Games without constructing many facilities. We saw how, to a lesser extent, London used some of its facilities and thought of integrating the organization into everyday life and bringing the Games to the city’s center. To achieve this, there were many challenges. Paris is a capital with a lot of tourism, and the plan had to be implemented without disrupting the city’s function. The rules are very strict, even regarding the colors or weight of the installations added to the monuments [platforms etc]. At the Place de la Concorde [where 3×3 basketball, BMX, breaking, and skateboarding will take place], there is a historic light pole. Among the guarantees for the site’s concession was its transfer and reinstallation.”

One of the greatest challenges the organizers face is the opening ceremony and hosting the aquatic sports on the Seine. The Greek director of planning and coordination reveals to Kathimerini that there are alternative scenarios, but the Seine is always at the center. “The ceremony and the events are the big bets. Nothing similar has been done before. We have conducted tests and will conduct more. For the ceremony, there are alternative plans, but everything can be adjusted to the Seine. Regarding holding it at the Stade de France [the national stadium, located just north of the capital], that is an extreme scenario, as all contributors are preparing for a ceremony on the river.”

Turning point

In June 1894, a congress in Paris marked the start of the revival of the ancient Greek athletic event. 130 years later, the City of Light will be called upon to illuminate an event at a critical juncture, as much has changed since the Games envisioned by Pierre de Coubertin and Demetrios Vikelas. “In these 130 years, the Olympics have often adapted to survive. In 1896, women did not compete. At Paris 2024, the number of men and women will be equal. In 1896, there were no Paralympics. In 2024, their athletes will compete in impressive facilities, and there will be beautiful ceremonies. In fact, I would suggest that Greek sports fans come to Paris during [the Paralympics] as, compared to the Olympics, it will be more affordable. Tickets start from 15 euros. So someone can go to a tennis match at the Roland-Garros and watch for only 15 euros.”

Konstantinidis received his Olympic baptism, as it were, at the Athens Paralympic Games. He had studied international relations in the US and France and worked in that field. In 2006, he worked for the Winter Games in Turin, and since then, his life has been measured in Olympiads. He speaks five languages, and his resume includes the Beijing, Vancouver, London and Sochi Games, and the Pan American Games. We ask him to turn back the clock and, based on his current experience, to tell us about mistakes made regarding the facilities in 2004.

“The mistake was made before the Olympics. We should have identified what sort of Greece we wanted in 2004 and, based on that, determined the facilities. For the Paris Olympics, only one pool was built. Before construction, there were discussions about its management. We already know even its future schedules. This did not happen in Greece to the extent it should have. We built excellent facilities, but we struggle to maintain them. However, on the other hand, we often refer to 2004 as something that went wrong. That alone is problematic. Alongside the mistakes, one can list many achievements that were extraordinary for a country of this size. Considering the many things that went well as given and normal shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of an undertaking that our country successfully carried out. At some point, as a society, we need to talk about that too.”

The future

In 1900, the Paris Olympics were held as part of the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). Twenty years later, in 1924, the Organizing Committee helped the City of Light shine brighter in Olympic history by adding many innovations, such as the Olympic Village. A hundred years later, the French capital will again be called upon to contribute fresh ideas. This event is expected to be a springboard for future Games, especially at a time when competitive events (e.g. Russia’s Friendship Games, the Enhanced Games) are beginning to emerge.

“Technology has drastically changed how a sports event is approached. We see it infiltrating from athletes’ equipment to the broadcasting of the games. Everything flows, as Heraclitus said. In 1924, there was the first live radio broadcast. Now, fans can follow the progress of the Olympics from their mobile phones. There should be no taboos. Let’s take the opening ceremony on the Seine. It represents a break from the past. The Paris Games will also be a popular celebration. After the marathon event, 20,000 lucky people will run the marathon route, and there will also be a 10 km race. There was great interest in this. Even if there were twice as many places, they would have been filled. Also, the route has been designed so that those who wish can [virtually] participate in the race from their homes and, thanks to the internet, will feel like they are running the Olympic route as they see the same images. All this was unimaginable a few years ago. On the other hand, new sports will be held, such as breaking. We saw the interest it generated at the Youth Olympics and added it because it is popular among a segment of the population that might not be interested in traditional sports. This sport does not require special equipment, showing that someone can play sports anywhere, as long as they want to,” Konstantinidis says. 

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