Philip Barker

The announcement that a giant Olympic flotilla along the Seine is to carry the athletes to the opening of the Paris 2024 Olympics is being claimed as "the full immersion of the city in the Ceremony," by Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet. 

"The real innovation is that hundreds of thousands of people will be able to attend the Opening Ceremony for the very first time," Estanguet said. "The advantage of doing this on the Seine is that we will have unlimited potential to do everything we can. Our artists will have a limitless canvas. We will write a new page in the history of the Games with this opening."

The Ceremony will begin on July 26 2024 at 8pm local time when the city will still be in daylight. It will take advantage of the changing light before the Flame is lit against the night sky much later in the evening.

The announcement, made with a sense of style from a "Paquebot" of the Yachts de Paris on the river itself, heralded the plan for a river journey starting at the Pont d’Austerlitz and ending six kilometres away at Le Pont d’Iéna.

Some 170 craft have already been identified for use in the Ceremony. They look certain to include the famous "Bateaux Mouches", which carry tourists through the city each day. Athletes are expected to board the craft in a special 3km embarkation zone.

Estanguet offered a tantalising expression of what the Ceremony might look like. Artists' impressions conducting light shows outside Notre Dame Cathedral, BMX riders, divers, orchestras on pontoons and balloonists in tribute to the Montgolfier brothers.

Each image had the disclaimer "visuel non-contractuel", which suggests that after more detailed discussions have taken place over the next year, the final look of the Ceremony will still have plenty of surprises in store.

There was also a dancer on the roof, an image seen during the Flag Handover Ceremony in Tokyo when Paris received the ceremonial Olympic Flag, which is now kept in the Paris Hotel de Ville.

Athletes will board boats on the River Seine as part of the Opening Ceremony ©Paris 2024
Athletes will board boats on the River Seine as part of the Opening Ceremony ©Paris 2024

That Ceremony also carried a note of warning: Paris 2024 had hoped to display a giant tricolour from the Eiffel Tower but adverse weather conditions made this impossible. Estanguet and his team will be hoping the weather does not interfere again.

In 2024, it is expected that tickets for the river pageant will be sold on the low quays along the route, though organisers say there will be free access to the higher quays. #The 2024 Opening Ceremony is expected to conclude in front of the Eiffel Tower. It is here, in front of the official stands, that the traditional moments, including the taking of the Olympic Oaths, the raising of the Olympic Flag and the official opening declaration by the French President to open the Games will take place.

When the logo for Paris 2024 was unveiled just over two years ago, many were surprised that Gustave Eiffel’s greatest work was notable by its absence. But on this occasion, the Tower is set to play a very prominent role in the Opening Ceremony itself.

It is intended that the athletes will disembark at Trocadero. This is where French athletes, among them three-time Olympic judo gold medallist Teddy Riner, gathered back in August to celebrate the handover to their city.

"This Opening Ceremony will break the mould," Riner said. "To experience it here, France, at the heart of Paris and in direct contact with spectators who have come from all over France and all over the world, will indubitably be unforgettable. Even now, I cannot wait to be there."

French Olympic Committee President Brigitte Henriques dubbed the Ceremony "revolutionary" as French athletes watching the announcement formed a gathering in Tignes today and confirmed that they had been part of the consultation process before the concept of the Ceremony was finalised and announced publicly.

"To see a Ceremony in the heart of Paris to be able to use all the monuments, the Seine, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with millions supporting us, I will be excited to be there," three-time Olympian swimmer Florent Manadou, a gold medallist in 2012, said.

After a Tokyo Opening Ceremony with no spectators, team judo gold medallist Romane Dicko relishes the prospect of a crowd projected to be over 600,000 for opening night in Paris. "When you think about the Olympic Games, you think about your public," Dicko said. "In Tokyo, that wasn’t possible, unfortunately, and to see everything that Paris plans for the Olympic Games in two and a half years, it really makes me look forward to it."

During the Olympic river pageant, the cavalcade will pass within a few kilometres of the birthplace of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French nobleman who instigated their revival at the Paris Sorbonne University in 1894. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo invoked the spirit of Coubertin at the launch and revealed that plans to use the river had even been in their thoughts during the bidding process for the Games.

If everything goes to plan in 2024, it will not be the first time the River Seine has played a part in a Parisian Olympics. Both rowing and swimming were held in the waters of the Seine in 1900. And now, 124 years later, a major project to clean the river for 2024 will help emphasise the environmental message of these Games.

"Cities throughout the world are reconquering their rivers," Hidalgo insisted. "Water is vital, it is something you need to live. It is an environmental message. The Seine is going to be rediscovered, it is going to be cleaned up. 

She concluded: "These Games will be an echo of the Paris agreement on climate change."

It will not be the first time that part of an Olympic Opening has been on the waterfront. In 1988, festivities in Seoul were set in motion by a fleet of traditional craft that approached the stadium from the nearby Han River. The boats were the first images seen by the worldwide television audience.

In 2010, the template was set down at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, when the entire Ceremony was held on a huge pontoon at Marina Bay Sands, although the Ceremony was ticketed. The Flame was even brought across the water and burned from a lighthouse overlooking the bay.

While not on water, but nonetheless comparable to the public-enthused Ceremony Paris 2024 is seeking, organisers of the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires impressed International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach by choosing to hold their Ceremony on the city streets.

The Eiffel Tower is set to play a key role in the Opening Ceremony ©Paris 2024
The Eiffel Tower is set to play a key role in the Opening Ceremony ©Paris 2024

"I was imagining what such a kind of Opening Ceremony in the centre of a city would mean for the Olympic Games, I hope sincerely that friends from Paris have heard this message loud and clear," hinted Bach at the time.

Such were the crowds in Buenos Aires, it was not clear how many of the spectators had a clear view. Paris 2024 organisers claim they will counter this problem with around 90 huge television screens strategically positioned to relay every detail.

They will relay the images produced by the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS). "As host broadcaster, OBS is looking forward to a new way of filming the delegations showcasing this unique spectacle on the Seine River to viewers worldwide through innovative storytelling and immersive technologies," OBS chief executive Yiannis Exarchos said.

Even the idea of a city centre Ceremony could be said to have originated in France. The 2013 Jeux Francophones were opened at the Place Massena in Nice.

Paris 2024 will be the first Olympics staged on French soil since the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, when Ceremonies were held at the Theatre de Ceremonies, an arena that did not hold any sport during the Games and was dismantled shortly afterwards.

Speculation has already begun on where the Flame will burn in 2024. Estanguet insisted that no decision had yet been made and that arrangements for the Torch Relay will be discussed in 2022. 

It will be the first time that an Olympic Flame has been taken to a Paris Olympic Games. And when it arrives in the French capital, it will do so in a historic Opening Ceremony, one that both reaches into history to find inspiration and builds upon it to turn it into something new entirely.