Security fears stalk 2024 Paris Olympic organisers
Two years out from Paris hosting the Summer Olympics there is widespread concern over security, exacerbated by the dreadful spectacle of the chaotic scenes at the Champions League final at the Stade de France.
Police tear-gassing frustrated Liverpool fans, including children and the disabled, was not the fault of the supporters but, according to a damning fact-finding mission by two French senators, the fault of the organisers.
“These dysfunctions were at every level, not only during the implementation but also during advance preparations,” said the co-chair of the enquiry Laurent Lafon.
The debacle set alarm bells ringing with next year’s Rugby World Cup being hosted in France but most of all for those dealing with security issues around the Olympics.
“Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call for everybody,” a security source told AFP.
The nervousness surrounding security at the Olympics led French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to set a clear roadmap for new Paris police chief Laurent Nunez, who has replaced Didier Lallement.
“You will be the prefect of police in charge of the Olympics and the entire police prefecture must be geared towards that,” Darmanin said during Nunez’s inauguration ceremony.
A government source told AFP the disastrous sequence of events at the Champions League final would “stick to them like a plaster up to the Olympic Games”.
With 13 million visitors expected and 15,000 athletes competing, the level of anxiety over the massive security operation at the Olympics was already high.
For months the biggest security headache for the organising committee has been the Opening Ceremony on the Seine on July 26.
On paper, the ceremony promises to be stunning, with the teams on around 180 boats travelling down the Seine, through the heart of the City of Light.
On the banks, an estimated 600,000 spectators will take in the spectacle, half a million of them free of charge.
Spectacular indeed, not least for the global television audience, but a massive security headache.
“We are not ready at all,” said the government source.
“If a drone drops grenades onto the crowds below we do not know how we will neutralise them.”
– ‘Holes in the racquet’ –
Fears over a drone attack is nothing new. There have been worries in the past that events such as marches might be targeted.
“It is the magnitude of the crowds spread out over six kilometres of the banks of the Seine which is the problem,” the source added.
That is accentuated by a dispute between the organising committee and the police.
The former wants to see spectators lining the entirety of the route, whilst the latter want everyone attending issued with a ticket and placed in enclosures along the river.
“This is a clash of two contrasting philosophies,” a source from Paris-2024 told AFP.
The biggest problem for the police in providing security for the ceremony is a lack of available officers.
According to a police source, it would require “nearly 7,000 officers” which in the height of summer is all but impossible.
The deficit in numbers cannot be filled by private security guards as they have fallen short of hiring the 24,000 it is believed are needed for the Games.
“We do not have the numbers,” Bernard Thibault, a member of the organising committee told AFP in mid-April.
The shortage of private security staff is a throwback to London in 2012 and Tokyo last year when both host cities were forced to fall back on the military. In both cases, operations ran smoothly.
“It is plain and simple,” a highly-placed police source told AFP.
“The 24,000 agents required for the Games do not exist, and never will.
“The army will be called on to do the job.”
The authorities have also prioritised preventing cyber-attacks — the Olympics has been a high profile target for years.
According to a source close to the organisers, several hundred cyber-investigators from the French Interior Ministry will be keeping an eye on potential attacks.
An Olympic intelligence centre has also been set up, as promised in the 2018 Olympic Law, to combat any risk of an attack.
Despite these measures the highly-placed police source believes there needs to be a greater sense of urgency.
“Clearly for the moment there are still holes in the racquet. So we better get our skates on.”