The Paris Games’ grandiose opening ceremony is being squeezed by security and transport issues

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PARIS (AP) — The talk before the opening ceremony of the Paris Games ideally should be about its grandiose backdrop: a summer sun setting on the Seine River as athletes drift by in boats and wave to cheering crowds.

But behind the romantic veneer that Paris has long curated, mounting security concerns already have had an impact on the unprecedented open-air event. In January, the number of spectators allowed to attend the ceremony was slashed from around 600,000 to around 320,000.

Tourists were told they won’t be allowed to watch it for free from riverbanks because the French government scaled back ambitions amid ongoing security threats. Then, on March 24, France raised its security readiness to the highest level after a deadly attack at a Russian concert hall and the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility.

French President Emmanuel Macron says the ceremony could be shifted instead to the national stadium at Stade de France if the security threat is deemed too high.

Security and transportation are the biggest concerns heading into the Paris Games, which run from July 26-Aug. 11.

Here is an overview of preparations:

VENUES

The Olympic Village and the bio-based Aquatics Centre are in proximity to Stade de France. The 5,000-seat aquatics venue made predominantly of wood connects to the national stadium via a footbridge.

While the village and the aquatics center in the poor, run-down area both leave a legacy for the future, the Games are steeped in history across the 35 venues.

Equestrian riders will gallop on the grounds of the royal Palace of Versailles, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette once held lavish banquets.

B-boys and B-girls cutting improbable shapes, BMX freestylers launching into gravity-defying moves, skaters flipping boards and 3-on-3 basketball players facing off will provide a youthful vibe at an urban park at Place de la Concorde, a prominent location in France’s gory past.

It is where Louis XVI died by guillotine in 1793 and where French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre met the same fate a year later. It’s also been home to the Luxor Obelisk for nearly 200 years.

The Grand Palais, built for the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900, hosts fencing and taekwondo, while the Yves-du-Manoir Stadium in the northwest suburb of Colombes is another link to the past: It was the main venue for the 1924 Paris Games. This time it holds field hockey matches.

The Parc des Princes soccer stadium, home to Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé, is one of seven stadiums around the country hosting matches. France fans hope Mbappé will play for Les Bleus.

Beach volleyball takes place near the foot of the Eiffel Tower, while tennis, naturally, is at Roland Garros, home of the French Open. Roland Garros, where Rafael Nadal has made history with his record 14 Grand Slam titles at one tournament, also packs a punch as the venue for boxing.

Surfers won’t be in Paris, however, but rather nearly 10,000 miles away in Teahupo’o, a coastal village in Tahiti, and they will sleep on a cruise ship docked at the French Polynesian island.

Breezy Marseille hosts the sailing events.

TICKET SALES

Around 9 million of the 10 million available tickets have been sold, organizers said, with 63% of buyers from France. The top 10-selling sports in order: soccer, track and field, basketball, rugby sevens, volleyball, handball, beach volleyball, field hockey, tennis and water polo.

The Paris Games’ organizing committee will put an additional 250,000 tickets up for sale on April 17 to mark the 100 days to go.

Tickets are on sale via the official platform, with a sliding barometer allowing buyers to choose a price ranging from 24 euros ($26) to 2,700 euros ($2,900) — the highest price for watching the opening ceremony, the first to be held outside of a usual stadium setting.

Remaining hospitality packages for soccer matches and the women’s basketball quarterfinals begin at 250 euros ($269), and they start at 375 euros ($404) for the men’s basketball game between the United States and South Sudan in Lille — one hour from Paris by train — on July 31.

Regular tickets for the U.S. women’s gold medal-game rematch against Japan on July 29 range from 50 euros ($54) to 200 euros ($216).

Want to watch the BMX freestyle finals? Regular tickets are sold out.

But fans can still get tickets for the men’s 200 meters and women’s 400 meter hurdles finals on Aug. 8 at Stade de France with tickets that day priced at 295 euros, 525 euros and 980 euros.

SECURITY

Around 30,000 police officers are expected to be deployed each day, with 45,000 working the opening ceremony.

With its own resources stretched thin, France has asked 46 countries to help provide about 2,200 extra officers, many of whom will be armed. The French Defense Ministry also has asked foreign nations for a small number of military personnel, including sniffer dogs.

Tony Estanguet, the head of the Paris Games’ organizing committee, said there will be unprecedented security measures.

“France has never deployed so many means for security,” he said. “I have faith that the security services in our country will make the Games safe.”

Cameras will be increased around the city, but facial recognition will not be used.

So far, 120 chiefs of state have confirmed they will attend the opening ceremony. Holding it outside a stadium means greater exposure for athletes paraded on 84 boats on the Seine along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route toward the Eiffel Tower, with 20,000 people living in apartments having views of the ceremony. Behind multiple security cordons, paying spectators will watch from the lower embankments while upper embankments are free for those with invitations.

An area around the Seine is expected to be closed to traffic a week before the parade and airspace will be closed on the night of the ceremony, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said.

Swedish swimmer Victor Johansson will not attend the ceremony because it’s the day before the 400-meter freestyle, but is confident it is safe.

“I don’t have any worries at all,” Johansson said. “I think they’ve taken all the precautionary actions to make it safe and fun for everyone involved.”

TRANSPORTATION

Driving in congested Paris can be hellish at the best of times, let alone during a major international event.

Some of the 2.1 million people living within the city limits plan to flee Paris for two-plus weeks while motorists are angered by a proposal that would require them to apply online for a QR code to access traffic-restricted zones.

There’s also the threat of train strikes to take into account.

The CGT public servants union has announced plans to strike during the Olympics, which could mean many transport workers walking out.

Transport operators are gearing up to carry between 600,000 to 800,000 Olympic visitors per day. An ad campaign on billboards called “Anticipate the Games” directs people to a website instructing them how to lessen the impact.

National rail giant SNCF has blocked sales of tickets for July 26 to and from three major stations all very near the Seine: Gare de Lyon — France’s biggest station for main line trains — Paris-Bercy and Austerlitz. Some other smaller stations will also close.

Subway tickets will rise from €2.10 ($2.30) to €4 ($4.30) for a single ticket and a book of 10 tickets from €16.90 ($18.30) to €32 ($34.60).

Tourists opting for a Paris 2024 pass pay 16 euros ($17) per day or 70 euros ($76) weekly, a far cry from the free public transport once envisaged. And an express train running from Paris’ main international airport, Charles de Gaulle, to the center of the city in 20 minutes has been shelved until 2027.

But a newly extended Metro service on Line 14 is expected to be ready in June, carrying people from Paris’ second airport, Orly, to an Olympic hub that includes the village, national stadium and aquatics center.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The Olympic Village will house more than 14,000 athletes and officials, with apartments holding a maximum of eight people.

Fans and tourists, however, have been subjected to an increase in hotel and Airbnb prices.

The Paris region has France’s greatest concentration of hotel accommodation, with 160,000 rooms. Adding rental accommodations, campsites and other options, the region has around 260,000 rooms for the Olympics.

Although some hotels tripled prices, competition from Airbnbs forced them to backpedal. Average prices for a one-night stay dropped from about 760 euros ($825) to 520 euros ($565) — still far higher than the average price last July of 200 euros ($220).

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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