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Olympic Flame arrives in Marseille amid tight security

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Paris Olympics 2024 - Arrival of the Olympic Flame in Marseille - Marseille, France - May 8, 2024 General view of colored smoke as French rapper Julien Mari is seen after the Olympic Flame was lit at the Old Port ahead of the Paris Olympics 2024 REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The Olympic flame landed on French soil amid tight security on Wednesday, firing the starting gun on a summer extravaganza of sport that President Emmanuel Macron hopes will showcase the splendours of France and burnish his legacy.

The flame arrived in Marseille, a port city in southern France founded by Greek merchants, after a 12-day trip from Greece onboard the Belem, a 128-year-old three-masted tall ship that once transported sugar from France’s colonies in the West Indies to the metropole.

The torch was brought to land by Florent Manaudou, France’s 2012 Olympic men’s 50 metres freestyle swimming champion, who handed it to Paralympic athlete Nantenin Keita, a 400 metres gold medallist at the Rio Games in 2016.

She then passed it on to Marseille-born rapper Jul, who lit the cauldron in front of an ecstatic crowd estimated at 150,000.

Earlier a flotilla of pleasure boats had welcomed the Belem to French shores.

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“It marks the end of preparations, the Games arrive in the life of the French people. The flame is here, we can be proud,” Macron said.

Some 7,000 law enforcement officers including snipers and dog units secured Marseille’s Old Port, a stress test for the Paris 2024 organisers with France on its highest state of security alert against a complex geopolitical backdrop.

“There’s a huge security issue at stake. We will be ready. We will be on alert until the last second,” Macron said.

“It’s an unprecedented level of security,” Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said. “Life goes on in Marseille but under great security.”

From Marseille, the torch will continue on an 11-week odyssey that will see it criss-cross France and visit French overseas territories in the Caribbean as well as the Indian and Pacific oceans.

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In all it will be carried by some 10,000 torchbearers before reaching Paris on July 26 for the Games’ opening ceremony.

Instead of a traditional opening ceremony, held in a stadium, France has planned a ritzy river parade along a six-kilometre stretch of the Seine, ending at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

SOUTHERN CHARM

Sun-baked Marseille, France’s second city, provides a different spectacle to the formal elegance of Paris and large crowds gathered around the Old Port to watch.

“It was the obvious choice,” Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 organising committee, said of Marseille, which was founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers from Phocea.

Despite a history of gang crime and poverty, its turquoise creeks and Mediterranean accents encapsulate the French southern charms that have beguiled artists and movie stars for generations.

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Sports competitions have long offered nations the opportunity to exert soft power and advance their geopolitical goals. This week Chinese President Xi Jinping voiced support for Macron’s call for a global truce during the Paris 2024 Games.

Suspending armed conflicts under an “Olympic truce” is a longstanding tradition. French officials hope Xi’s endorsement is a sign that he could use his influence to persuade Russia to honour a truce in Ukraine when President Vladimir Putin travels to China later this month.

Paris itself has come to take an increasingly important role in France’s diplomatic and commercial strategies.

Last year, Pharrell Williams staged his debut menswear collection for Louis Vuitton (LVMH.PA), opens new tab along Paris’ Pont Neuf bridge, with large crowds gathered along the banks of the Seine for a glimpse of his celebrity audience.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Olympics

Djokovic confirmed for Paris Olympics

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French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 3, 2024 Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his fourth round match against Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Novak Djokovic will compete at this year’s Olympic Games in Paris, the Olympic Committee of Serbia has announced.

The 24-times Grand Slam winner will be attending his fifth Olympics since his first in 2008 when he won a bronze medal.

The 37-year-old had knee surgery last month after he was forced to pull out of the French Open with an injury sustained in a fourth-round win that cast doubt over his chances of playing at Wimbledon and at the Paris Games.

World number three Djokovic will look to end his title drought in 2024 after winning three out of the four Grand Slams last year as he chases an elusive Olympic gold medal at the Paris Games in which Spain’s Rafa Nadal will also compete.

Dusan Lajovic, ranked 56th, will also play for Serbia in the July 27-Aug. 4 Olympic tournament at Roland Garros.

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-Reuters

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Mbappe rules out playing at Paris Games after Real Madrid move

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Kylian Mbappe confirmed on Sunday he will not play for France’s Olympic team at the Paris Games as his new club Real Madrid are against the idea.

The 25-year-old said in March that he was keen on playing at his home Games but since the Olympic soccer tournament is not on FIFA’s calendar clubs are not obliged to release their players.

Mbappe was not included in a 25-man preliminary squad for the Olympics earlier this month, though head coach Thierry Henry left the door open.

“My club’s position was very clear, so from that moment on, I think I (knew) I won’t be taking part in the Games,” Mbappe told reporters ahead of Monday’s Group D match against Austria at Euro 2024.

“That’s just the way it is, and I understand that too. I’m joining a new team in September, so it’s not the best way to start an adventure.

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“I’m going to wish this French team all the best. I’m going to watch every game. I hope they’ll win the gold medal.”

The men’s Olympic football competition begins on July 24, 10 days after the European Championships final, and ends on Aug. 9.

-Reuters

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Messi says he won’t play for Argentina at Paris Games

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Lionel Messi said he will not be part of Argentina’s squad for the Paris Olympics as he is no longer at an age where he can play in every tournament.

The 36-year-old Inter Miami forward is currently preparing for Argentina’s Copa America title defence, which runs from June 20 to July 14 in the United States.

In February, under-23 manager Javier Mascherano said Messi, who won gold with Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had an invitation to join the squad for Paris.

“I talked to Mascherano and the truth is we both understood the situation,” Messi told ESPN.

“It’s hard (to think about the Olympics right now) because we’re in Copa America. It would be two, three straight months of not being with the club, and more than anything I’m not at an age to be in everything.

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“I have to choose carefully, and it would be too much to play two straight tournaments. I’ve been very lucky to play in the Olympics, of winning it together with (Mascherano).

“It was a wonderful experience on a football level. Olympics, U20, memories I’ll never forget.”

The men’s football tournament at the Olympics takes place in July and August. Teams are allowed three overage players in their squads.

-Reuters

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