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Can the French Election Derail the Paris Olympic Bid?

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach visited Paris last October. Photo: Paris 2024

In January, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, strongly criticized the quinquennat – five year term – of President François Hollande, from the Parti Socialiste like her. “An immense waste,” she said in a pitiless Le Monde’s interview. For Hollande’s team, as reported later by some observers, Mrs. Hidalgo does already play her own cards with the 2022 presidential election in mind knowing that her camp, represented by the very leftist Benoît Hamon, has practically no chance in the 2017 election – he gets around 10-12% in the polls.

On the left side of the political field, there should be some mantle of leadership to grab very soon and Anne Hidalgo, who has started to build up her international strategy as chair of the C40, a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, might be one of the plain contenders.

Why not?

Mrs. Hidalgo, who didn’t want an Olympic and Paralympic bid in 2014 but changed her mind with the help of François Hollande in 2015, is also well aware that a triumph with Paris hosting the Games for the first time since 1924 -in 2024 or in 2028 if, in September, in Lima, Peru, the IOC decides to pick both Los Angeles and Paris to host a Summer Games would make her stature bigger in France where she is little known outside the capital. This disputed woman in Paris – Le Figaro portrayed her in a recent and long piece with the headline “The smiling sectarianism” – is, above all, ambitious for her city and herself. Who, as a new President, will join Mrs. Hidalgo next summer in South America to give the final push for the bid? And will this man -or woman- fit in with her personality and vision? It is clear now that the two very different elections of 2017, in France and in Peru, are linked with one of the two having an influence on the other.

The next presidential election will take place the 23rd of April and the 7th of May – if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round of voting, the two highest-scoring candidates arrive at a run-off- and then will be followed by the parliamentary elections – two rounds the 11th and the 18th of June.

This election period, so wild and unprecedented in many aspects, is dominated by a strong frustration with all the divisions that are splitting the country from the far-left to the far-right, from the rural counties to the inner-cities. France is full of anger and many polls anticipate the highest rate of abstention ever for a presidential election after so many unpredictable events.

In the middle of what it looks like a crise de régime, François Hollande, who had no chance, according to the polls, to serve a second 5-year term, has decided to not stand for a re-election -a historical move that stunned the whole nation. During the primary of EELV, the green party, Cécile Duflot, the favorite, was shockingly eliminated in the first of the two rounds. In the primary of Les Républicains, the right-wing party, François Fillon was the totally unexpected and easy winner with Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, kicked out in the first of the two rounds with a surprisingly low score.

And the last party to nominate its champion, the Parti Socialiste, was left bewildered after Manuel Valls, Prime Minister until last December, was crushed by Benoît Hamon at the conclusion of the socialist primary while Vincent Peillon, backed by Anne Hidalgo, was trashed in the first round. And in this moment’s chaos, the very conservative François Fillon, the past front runner of the presidential election, is suddenly in trouble. The man who promises blood and tears and was not afraid to express his admiration for the late Margaret Thatcher to the disgust of the many ready to go on strike when he will take his first strong measures next summer if he wins the contest, is trapped, among other issues, in a scandal of nepotism with his wife suspected of having been paid about 900.000 Euros in public funds for a job she allegedly didn’t do.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. Photo: AFP Photo/Francois Guillot

“A presidential election on a volcano,” in a nutshell by the headline of Le Monde the 30th of January. “The French republic, a devasted landscape,” some days later, in the words of Le Figaro evoking a 2017 modern-like 1789 revolution.

In this seismic France, the relatively unknown and unexperienced centrist Emmanuel Macron, 39, a graduate of France’s elite schools, appears, for now, to be the obvious but fragile favorite -he would become the youngest French President ever. However, the populist Marine Le Pen, from the Front National, still believes she has a shot. The election of Donald Trump in United States has greatly boosted her hopes even she’s under pressure having been urged to repay nearly 300.000 Euros of EU funds that a European parliament investigation alleged she misspent.

In the polls, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are neck and neck with around 25% of the vote -80% of Le Pen’s voters are sure of their choice, only 60% for Macron. Fillon is a distant third with 18-20% and 70% of voters sure of their vote. But Marine Le Pen doesn’t get more than around 40% in the second round against Macron or Fillon. The two-stage presidential election system with two finalists doesn’t favor her.

A triumph of Mrs. Le Pen, in the wake of the Brexit and Donald Trump stunning results, remains unlikely. However, if she was the winner of the first round with a very high score – Jean-Marie, her father, qualified for the « final » in 2002, but as second and with only 17% behind Jacques Chirac 20% – it would definitely be a turning point for France regarding its future. In the 2002 run-off, Chirac crushed Le Pen 82 to 18%.

Whoever the winner might be between Macron and Fillon, many predict a result with lots of frustration if, in the second round, like 15 years ago, the voters will have to decide between democracy and populism in a country at a crossroads with its disconnected political class, the never ending economic crisis, the French cancer of unemployment, the growing number of 8.8 million of poor, the rising debt – 2.200 billion Euros – and the fear of a new terror attack. To many, the worst case scenario would be a “final” between Le Pen and Fillon opening the door for a huge rate of abstention and the risk of seeing Le Pen with a bigger chance.

In the turmoil of this election, the Paris 2024 bid is not a subject on the agenda but the overall atmosphere will have some impact. And it is remarkable to note that the IOC Evaluation Commission that will oversee the two remaining bids for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics will visit Paris between the 14th and the 16th of May one week after the election. The new President-elect will have to move into the Elysée Palace before the 15th of May – end of the Hollande’s term. The commission, then, may be at work in the middle of a big transition process with a new sports minister to emerge at the same time. And never forget a French democratic tradition: when a new President takes office, (s)he pays a visit to the Mayor of Paris at the City Hall just after his assumption of power. In the two speeches delivered by the President and the Mayor, it would be a surprise if the Paris bid was not mentioned on such an occasion.

The outcome of the presidential election won’t damage the bid unless Marine Le Pen is elected – or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate hostile to the Games and fourth in the polls with around 15%. In November, in Doha, during the XVIII ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) general assembly, however, Tony Estanguet, co-chairman, declared to the press that a Le Pen success would not affect negatively the Paris bid.

Of course, it would. The Front National, the party of Le Pen, has never been in power and if Mrs. Le Pen, who supports the bid but has strongly expressed her disapproval regarding its slogan, in English, «Made for sharing», was the chosen one, it would be a time of great confusion for France. In that case, the streets of Paris would probably be full of protesters and it is hard to imagine Anne Hidalgo working closely with a President Marine Le Pen on her way to Lima. Moreover, the reaction of the whole French administration confronted with such a result would be hard to predict.

Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon support the bid and the election of one of the two would be a good news for Paris 2024. But it is well known that Emmanuel Macron and Anne Hidalgo have a frosty relationship. “He is the symbol of the reproduction of elite’s schools,” she said among other “compliments” after Macron, when he was Hollande’s minister, made Sunday working the norm for some shops in Paris to the rage of Mrs. Hidalgo who thought the law would turn Paris into a city “dedicated to consumerism.”

However, they could be a great match for the IOC in Lima considering that youth and diversity are always cherished by the world of sport. Politically, Anne Hidalgo and François Fillon don’t live on the same bank of the Seine River. When Anne Hidalgo tweeted, about a recent Fillon demonstration at the Trocadero set up to save his campaign, that the event endangered French values, claiming its real goal was to fight against judges, police and journalists “bringing to light the truth,” she didn’t help their “connection” to say the least. Fillon who keeps repeating, day after day, that it’s “the last chance’s election” and he’s not talking about the Paris bid. “Keeping everything in proportion, we’re back in 1958 when the General de Gaulle returned to power,” he added.

The Front National has been growing steadily in the last few years and the party might get another great chance in 2022 whether an in theory-elected Emmanuel Macron or François Fillon wouldn’t be able to change the path of the country during his possible term.

There is a general agreement from the left to the right: the next five years will be decisive for France. In summer 2024, the United States – and Los Angeles – might enjoy the final weeks of a hypothetical second-term of Donald Trump. France -and Paris- can’t read the future so clearly. Nice food for thought for the IOC in the coming months.

By Yannick Cochennec for the Sport Intern

This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

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