Fans need to pre-register for free tickets to Paris' huge 2024 Olympic opening ceremony

For the first time Tuesday, France publicly laid out some of the gritty details of its plan to shield the unprecedented Paris Olympics opening ceremony from the threats of terrorism, drone attacks and other risks for the massive crowds and 10,500 athletes.

Athletes will be paraded along Seine river aboard 91 boats to the foot of Eiffel Tower

Seine river in Paris, France, pictured at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
Nearly 11,000 athletes competing at the Paris Olympics next summer will be paraded along the Seine river aboard 91 boats, with 25 other craft in reserve for breakdowns or other needs. France is ditching the safety of a traditional stadium setting for the first time. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

To pull off the most audacious opening ceremony in Olympic history, French organizers are now, literally, on the same page.

France's government, the organizing committee president for the 2024 Paris Games and the French capital's mayor signed an 11-page security protocol Tuesday that for the first time publicly laid out some of the gritty details of their planning to shield the unprecedented July 26 opening ceremony from the threats of terrorism, drone attacks and other risks for the massive crowds and 10,500 athletes.

A notable change is the hundreds of thousands of spectators who will watch the open-air gala for free, spread along a six-kilometre parade route on the River Seine, will need to pre-register for tickets.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, in charge of Olympic security, had been pushing for that shift so throngs of non-paying spectators can be allocated designated spots on the river's upper embankments, separated from 100,000 other guests paying for a closer, waterside view.

In the face of experts' misgivings about the size and complexity of the security operation, Darmanin, organizing committee president Tony Estanguet and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke at a news conference in defence of France's decision to use the centre of the city as the venue for the extravaganza, ditching the safety of a traditional stadium setting for the first time.

It promises great television if all goes well, showcasing iconic monuments and the Seine that is being cleaned up for Olympic swimming. But the unique logistical and security requirements could backfire spectacularly in front of a global audience for France if there are major problems.

"When France organizes the Games — the last time was 100 years ago — it does so with ambition," Estanguet said. "It's a challenge to organize a ceremony with these conditions but, again, it's the biggest audience that France will ever have had, the most beautiful showcase. Our responsibility is to create dreams, to show how incredible this country is."

Paris' plans are gargantuan in other ways, too:

  • The athletes will be paraded from east to west along the river aboard 91 boats, with 25 other craft in reserve for breakdowns or other needs. There will also be about 30 boats for security; the river could get crowded. There will be trial runs starting this July. The whole event, including the water-borne parade to the foot of the Eiffel Tower, an artistic and musical show, and the official ceremony with the lighting of the Olympic flame and attended by heads of state is expected to last about 3 1/2 hours.
  • With a planned deployment of 35,000 police officers -- swallowing up a sizable chunk of France's total of 250,000 -- Paris' ceremony will dwarf "Operation Golden Orb," Britain's huge policing operation for the coronation of King Charles III. It mobilized nearly 13,000 police officers. London's police commissioner said it was the largest security operation that his 194-year-old Metropolitan Police force had ever led.
  • In all, 30,000 officers will be mobilized on average per day during the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics, rising to as many as 45,000 on the busiest days in the Paris region, Darmanin told senators in October.

Police vacations will be cancelled in June, July and early August with "very rare exceptions" and other events that would have needed policing will be postponed, he said. The minister warned of "enormous public order problems if, clearly, things go wrong."

An acute concern in the wake of multiple attacks by the Islamic State group that killed 147 people in Paris and its surrounds in 2015 is that the show might be a target for terrorism. Bomb-carrying drones are also a worry. "It's a totally new threat," Darmanin said.

Risk of spectators falling into river

There are also concerns about managing the massive crowds and whether organizers will be able to recruit private security guards in enough numbers.

"It's very ambitions and it's true that many experts have voiced opposition," said Bertrand Cavallier, the former commander of France's national gendarmerie police training centre, speaking in a phone interview. "The physical configuration is very complex."

Among other challenges, he cited a risk of spectators falling into the river or tumbling from the Seine's upper embankments onto the paying crowds below. The security protocol signed Tuesday, however, specified that there will be a gap between the spectators and the upper parapets, wide enough for security and rescue services to pass.

There is also the possibility of protests after sustained and sometimes violent demonstrations this year against pension reforms pushed by President Emmanuel Macron.

"There's a desire to present a very beautiful image of France. It's true that the Seine, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the rest are very evocative. So, behind this is a big publicity campaign to showcase France. And there's also a political dimension. I think President Macron wants to mark his presidency," Cavallier said. "But the risk is there.

"The idea is very seductive," he added. "Realizing it is going to take considerable work."

Civil liberty campaigners have also sounded the alarm that Olympic security measures risk eroding freedoms. Critics have raised privacy concerns about video surveillance technology that will be used on an experimental basis, combining cameras with artificial intelligence software to flag potential security risks such as abandoned packages or crowd surges.

Authorities are adding hundreds of surveillance cameras in regions that will host Olympic events. Critics contend that intrusive, lasting security is often a toxic legacy of the Olympics.

Policing is already being ramped up. Darmanin has spoken of a campaign "of harassment, of cleaning" of crime in areas hosting Olympic sites.

6.8 million tickets sold, organizers say

Organizers of the Paris Olympics said they have sold 6.8 million tickets out of 10 million available with 14 months left before the opening ceremony and on Tuesday brushed off criticism that prices are too high.

Tony Estanguet, the organizing committee president, said the second ticketing phase that ended last week exceeded expectations despite some fans, and athletes, complaining about hefty prices.

The most expensive tickets are 2,700 euros ($2,900 US) for the opening ceremony, and the sports with the highest prices are the athletics, swimming and basketball finals. The cheapest tickets are 24 euros ($26) and were quickly snapped up, leaving just 200,000 low-cost seats available in a later round to the frustration of many buyers.

A key goal was to keep a large amount of tickets affordable, said Estanguet, citing the 5.3 per cent of tickets that cost 400 euros ($431) each are guaranteeing that four million seats can be bought for 50 euros ($54) or less.

A total of 5.2 million tickets have been sold to the general public across the first two phases, with 1.6 million going to corporate partners and others.

During the second phase only — for the sale of individual tickets and which saw four million people register for the draw — a total of 1.89 million tickets were sold in 178 countries. Fifty-eight percent of those went for 100 euros ($108) or less.

Soccer was the top seller, ahead of basketball and handball. Tickets for triathlon, sport climbing, BMX Racing, BMX Freestyle and breaking all sold out in less than two hours, organizers said.

The Paris Games, which run from July 26-Aug. 11, 2024, will feature 32 sports and 48 disciplines across 37 sites. The Paralympics will then take place from Aug. 28-Sept. 8, with ticket sales beginning this fall.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now