David Owen

A week ago, as British political life descended into ever greater depths of weirdness and Euro 2016 geared up for the semi-final matches, the conclusions of a report that could have an important bearing on Paris’s chances of hosting the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics started to circulate.

The document in question is a 300-page French Parliamentary investigation into last year’s terrorist attacks in the French capital which killed 147 people.

Security is probably the single biggest doubt assailing the Paris bid as it aims to beat rivals Budapest, Los Angeles and Rome, and win the right to stage the Games for a third time. 

The French city’s phase one Olympic candidature file said the risk of terrorism was “assessed as high”.

Over the past several years, the report went on to note, “key reforms have significantly strengthened the legal framework as well as introduced new prevention and enforcement measures to fight against this threat.

“In 2014, the creation of a new agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), helped to streamline counter-terrorism operations.

“The DGSI is responsible for gathering intelligence and coordinating the fight against terrorism in France, in collaboration with a national prosecution team dedicated to anti-terrorism…

“Following the November 2015 attacks, counter-terrorism capabilities are being further enhanced.”

Security is a major issue for the Paris 2024 Olympic bid after last year's terrorist attacks ©Getty Images
Security is a major issue for the Paris 2024 Olympic bid after last year's terrorist attacks ©Getty Images

Anyone who takes the trouble to scrutinise the 38 proposals now formulated by the Parliamentary Commission on terrorism could only conclude that it is a very good job that these capabilities are being “further enhanced”.

Probably the key proposal - number 18 - urges the creation of a national counter-terrorism agency (What? They don’t have one?), reporting direct to the Prime Minister.

Tweets posted the same day by Georges Fenech, the Commission’s President, leave little room for doubt that improvements are urgently required.

“I say that today we are faced with a war that has been declared on us. Our soldiers today have boots of lead,” Fenech said.

“These attacks are a failure of our services. We are therefore calling their organisation into question.

“There is no anti-terrorism boss in France! That is why we are advocating creation of the counter-terrorism agency.

“Undeniably there are flaws…

“When you have around 150 deaths in 2015, there are flaws. It is a failure of intelligence.

“We don’t have a minute to lose.”

Fenech is also quoted in Le Figaro, one of the main French national daily newspapers, as saying: “During our foreign trips we were able to take note that none of those in charge of the Israeli, Greek, Turkish or American services were capable clearly of designating their counterpart in charge of counter-terrorism in France.”

This is not a deal-breaker for Paris 2024.

No-one is exempt from terrorist attacks.

The city is one of the world’s great cultural capitals with visual potential for TV producers every bit as mouth-watering as London or Rio.

The de Coubertin factor means Paris’s historical bonds with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are stronger than any rival.

Its logistical strength is unquestioned in pretty much every other area important to a successful Games.

But security, plainly, is a biggee.

A largely trouble-free Euro 2016 could be a factor in France's favour ©Getty Images
A largely trouble-free Euro 2016 could be a factor in France's favour ©Getty Images

With competitors including a strong bid from the country housing many of the IOC’s main paymasters, the United States, it is absolutely imperative that Paris 2024 uses the next 14 months to convince the IOC members who will determine its fate that French security services and their political masters are doing their utmost to address issues identified by the Commission.

It would be a big mistake to try to brush concerns under the carpet.

That said, the French bid does have valid points it can make.

In spite of hooligan issues, not least the apparent ability of football fans to smuggle flares into stadia, Euro 2016, though ultimately disappointing for the hosts, should be a potent card in its favour.

And – provided the warnings are acted upon – French political leaders should be able to come to the IOC Session in Lima next year and state, with sincerity, that the ghastly events of 2015, and the security shortcomings they exposed, have at least led to changes that should make everybody safer.

As always with Olympic bids, one cannot know the exact security issues that will confront candidate-cities seven years into the future.

But IOC members can judge how effectively cities are dealing with the problems of 2017 and extrapolate accordingly.