David Owen

Thomas Bach must have been looking forward to Paris 2024 - not least because at long last he might get to preside over an Olympic Games where sport reigned front and centre.

In not far short of a decade at the helm, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President has yet to experience this novelty.

One after another, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016, Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 have been overshadowed by inconvenient "noises off" of one kind or another.

In the wake of Sunday’s first-round results of the French Presidential election, however, Bach faces a nervous two-week wait before knowing if the dream of a sports-centric Games in one of Europe’s most photogenic capital cities remains a realistic possibility.

Politics will inevitably take over should the Olympic circus find itself pitching tent in little more than two years’ time in a country with Marine Le Pen as its head of state.

It could be argued that not much has changed from the last French Presidential election in 2017, when Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen contested a run-off, just as they will between now and April 24, and the newbie centrist ended up with almost twice as many votes as his far-right opponent.

Believe me, plenty has changed.

Most importantly, Macron, a refreshing outsider in 2017, is now - unavoidably - part of the French Establishment, and regularly decried as such.

The next French President is set to be in office for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images
The next French President is set to be in office for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

In addition, Le Pen has successfully shaved off some of her rough edges, abandoning 2017 campaign pledges such as reinstating the national currency and restoring the death penalty.

A prime focus of her 2022 campaign, intelligently, has been cost of living issues.

Of course, the beauty of the French system is that voters get two bites at the cherry.

In the first round, with a wide range of candidates on the ballot-paper, the electorate can vote with their hearts, knowing that two weeks' later they will be summoned once again to the polling booths, where many of them will be required to suck in their cheeks and put a cross next to their least bad option, knowing that only then is real power at stake.

The first-round results therefore indicate that the identity of the next French President is to a large extent in the hands of supporters of the man who finished third and collected nearly 22 per cent of first-round votes, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a veteran leftist.

Given that his La France Insoumise Movement believes in being welcoming to immigrants, you would think that few of his backers would switch to Le Pen in the second round, although it is easier to imagine many of them not bothering to vote.

Mélenchon himself has wasted little time in urging his supporters not to give "a single vote" to Le Pen.

My overall assessment, for what it is worth, is that the odds are still stacked heavily in Macron’s favour - but this time not so heavily that a horrendous second phase of the campaign might not upset his apple-cart and land us with a Le Pen Presidency.

Emmanuel Macron, left, and Marine Le Pen face a run-off for the French Presidency ©Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron, left, and Marine Le Pen face a run-off for the French Presidency ©Getty Images

This election has actually lumbered Bach with another potential problem.

Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo - Mayor of the Olympic host city - scored a disastrous under two per cent and placed 10th.

To put this in some sort of context, this was worse than the Communist Party candidate Fabien Roussel.

Assuming she decides to remain in office, Hidalgo does not face re-election as Paris Mayor until well after the Games have moved on, in 2026.

In any case, an Olympic project worth its salt is well capable of navigating a change of Mayor, as illustrated by London 2012, where chalk - Ken Livingstone - gave way to cheese - Boris Johnson - in May 2008.

But what about a Mayor desperate to reassert authority and credibility in the wake of electoral catastrophe?

Time will tell, but this might prove trickier to manage.

Bach and his acolytes must hope that Hidalgo concludes that the route to refurbishing her political image lies in pulling off a spectacular and efficiently-run Paris Games 100 years after the city last hosted them.

Even if she does, it seems natural to surmise that the next few months may prove challenging, with local opponents doubtless smelling blood and probably plotting to make recovery difficult for her.

The Olympic world’s Asian interlude is well and truly over.