Macron mulls over moving Olympics opening amid security threat

A computer generated image showing how the ceremony on the river would look
A computer generated image showing how the ceremony on the river would look - FLORIAN HULLEU/AFP

Emmanuel Macron has said that plans to hold the Olympics opening ceremony along the River Seine could be abandoned in the event of a major security threat.

Instead of teams sailing down the Seine on barges, the ceremony could be limited to the Trocadéro across the river from the Eiffel Tower or the Stade de France.

In a joint interview with BFM TV and RMC radio, he said: “There is plan B and plan C. We are preparing them in parallel.

“We will do an analysis in real-time. We have a ceremony which we’re preparing that could be limited to the Trocadéro and which would therefore not cover the entire Seine, or could also be relocated to the Stade de France.”

It was the first time the president addressed contingency plans for the opening ceremony on July 26 amid ongoing security concerns over whether holding it in the open could leave people vulnerable to an attack.

The plans for the Seine would be the first time an Olympic opening ceremony event is held out of a stadium and on a waterway.

French President Emmanuel Macron
Mr Macron says there is more than one back-up plan for the ceremony - YOAN VALAT/AFP

Among the potential threats experts have raised are drone attacks, cyberattacks that would disable computer and communication systems, and mass shootings.

David Hornus, a risk and crisis security expert, said the current plans for the opening ceremony on the Seine had always struck him as ambitious and excessive. And given the fraught geopolitical climate, potentially risky.

“The way I interpret this, is that either they are currently thinking about reducing the scale of this event or they have other information they’re not telling us and are trying to prepare us for an alternative scenario,” said Mr Hornus.

The event’s organisers have already taken measures to mitigate the risk of a big disaster by cutting the number of spectators permitted to attend from 600,000 to 320,000.

Plans for the ceremony to be open free to the public have also changed, with it now being invitation-only.

Didier Lallement, the former Paris police chief, has been one of the most vocal critics of holding the ceremony on the Seine, calling Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, and its organisers “crazy”.

Mr Hornus pointed out that along with terrorist threats, one of the biggest security challenges will be crowd control, given the density and volume of spectators.

Workers laying the athletics track at the Stade de France
Workers laying the athletics track at the Stade de France - ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP

Since the mass shooting at a Moscow concert hall claimed by the Islamic State last month, France has been on its highest terror alert.

Around 45,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed to protect spectators, athletes, and the 150-200 heads of state who are expected to be in attendance. But the French Federation of Private Security said they’re still short of about 20,000 private security guards needed to help oversee the games.

During his interview, Mr Macron sought to reassure a mother who expressed concerns for her son’s safety while at the opening ceremony.

Referring to an area along the Seine and around Olympic venues that will only be accessible by QR Code a week before the ceremony starts, Mr Macron said: “If there is any place where your son will be safe, it’s there.”