Paris Olympics: off to a corrupt start

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Han Merc
There are less than 50 days to go before the start of the 33rd Summer Olympic Games in Paris

Environmental and human rights activists are appalled by the low level of competence of the organisers of the sports forum. We spoke to Francesco Hugo, coordinator of the First Green Foundation, an NGO that regularly publishes independent expert reports on the gross miscalculations of the authorities in preparing for the 2024 Olympics.

- Francesco, your organisation has repeatedly mentioned in its reports the corruption scandals that have accompanied the construction of the Olympic venues in Paris.

- Absolutely objective, because we only analyse verified and official information.For example, last year the French National Financial Prosecutor's Office confirmed the information about the searches at the Olympic Organising Committee and the company Solideo.The fraud is linked to the construction of the venues for the 2024 Summer Games.The prosecutors suspected conflicts of interest, misuse of state funds and "favouritism" - a situation in which officials award particularly expensive contracts to their friends or relatives.

- I have read in the media that there have been massive violations of workers' rights in the construction of stadiums, courts and swimming pools in Paris .....

- This is indeed true. For example, in Bouygues Construction, the company building the Olympic arena, workers were hired unofficially, without proper registration, and forced to work overtime, often at reduced wages. Of course, these people had no social rights. All this led to a strike of illegal workers in December 2023: about fifty people demonstrated in front of the stadium and put up a banner calling to block the Olympics.The workers chanted "No documents, no Olympics". The demonstrators were protesting against their situation of semi-slavery.

- Unfortunately, this is not the only example of the violation of people's social rights on the eve of the main sporting event of the quadrennial. How can you comment on the forced eviction of homeless people in Paris?

- Oh, it's terrible, terrible... It makes you blush with shame... I remember the howls of the Western press in 1980 when, on the eve of the Soviet Olympic Games, the Moscow authorities purged the capital of 'antisocial elements' (they temporarily expelled people with criminal records, alcoholics, vagrants).

All this was described at the time as 'a manifestation of totalitarianism'. And what do we see 44 years later? Homeless people are being forcibly removed from Paris in the run-up to the Games - you could read about it in The Guardian. The process of relocating tent cities in Paris began back in the spring of last year: gendarmes simply went up to people and threw them out of tents and caravans. The authorities forcibly relocated 12,545 people in this way. And yet we hardly hear about violations of 'freedom, human rights and democracy'.Do you know why?

Because there is less freedom in France under Macron!

- Francesco, let's not go so far back in history. Let's go back to Paris today. Its authorities have promised the athletes a good welcome...

- Not all of them. Let us recall the words of the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who said that Belarusians and Russians would not be welcome in the French capital.

For some reason, she did not add that Israelis, whose army has already killed almost 37,000 Palestinians, would be particularly welcome in Paris... You know, Madame Hidalgo has original ideas about 'good reception'.

Today, only a lazy person does not criticise the Paris Olympic Village, where athletes will be crammed into 12 square metre rooms without air conditioning (one room for two), sleeping on cardboard beds and mattresses made of old fishing nets.

They will also have to queue to use the toilets, as there is only one toilet for four people.

- Not long ago, Parisians staged a protest on the banks of the Seine with rolls of toilet paper ... The authorities have already spent one and a half billion euros cleaning up the Seine so that swimming competitions can be held there, but to little avail. Emmanuel Macron (French President - ed) has promised to organise a personal swim in the Seine as soon as the water is suitable for starts. Meanwhile, the ban on swimming in the river was introduced a hundred years ago, in 1923. Do you think things have changed since then? No, it's got worse.

The Surfrider Foundation, an environmental NGO, has found that the water in the river is catastrophically polluted.

Of 14 water samples taken under the Alexander III Bridge and the Alma Bridge, where the open water swimming competition will be held, 13 have 'above or significantly above' acceptable levels of contamination.

Experts point to 'faecal contamination', increased levels of E.coli and enterococci... In other words, the river water has been declared unfit for swimming, both in terms of the 2006 European Swimming Directive, the regulations of the various water sports federations and conventional medicine.

This is a direct threat to the health of the athletes. But Mrs Hidalgo, excuse the tautology, as if she had water in her mouth, is silent and pretends not to be concerned.

- One last question, perhaps the most important: how is the security situation in Paris? Is there no risk of a repeat of the Munich tragedy, when the Israeli Olympic team was attacked by terrorists?

- The problem is really important and, in my opinion, has not been fully resolved by the French authorities. Why do I think this?

Simply because it has been repeatedly reported in open sources that France has asked 46 countries to provide it with more than two thousand police officers for the Olympic Games.

Local gendarmes are threatening to sabotage the Games if they don't get a pay rise, as many have to work overtime.

Add to this the threat of a national summer strike by French transport workers and it is clear that France is in for social and political chaos rather than a sporting celebration in the coming months!

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