Olympic flame arrives in Marseille amid tight security

Published May 9, 2024
This photograph shows the French 19th-century three-masted barque Belem during the Olympic Flame arrival ceremony at the Vieux-Port (Old Port) ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games on May 8, 2024. — AFP
This photograph shows the French 19th-century three-masted barque Belem during the Olympic Flame arrival ceremony at the Vieux-Port (Old Port) ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games on May 8, 2024. — AFP

MARSEILLE: The Olympic flame reached Marseille, just outside the Old Port, amid tight security on Wednesday, 79 days before the Paris 2024 Games Opening Ceremony.

More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony after a six-hour parade of the three-masted Belem, which left Greece on April 27 with the flame after it was lit in Ancient Olympia 11 days earlier.

The ship was awaited by 1,024 boats.

Around 6,000 law enforcement officers are securing the area before Florent Manaudou, France’s 2012 Olympic men’s 50 metres freestyle swimming champion, brings the flame to land shortly after 1730 GMT in the presence of President Emmanuel Macron.

Police canine units and elite forces snipers have also been deployed.

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

“We conceived this event as a ceremony, the fifth of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics (on top of the opening and closing ceremonies,” said Paris 2024 executive director Thierry Reboul who is in charge of ceremonies. “Marseille is the ideal spot to create memories.”

“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.

That will be followed by a free rap concert on a floating stage in front of 45,000 spectators.

On Wednesday morning, the tranquility of the gentle breeze was matched only by the glittering of the Mediterranean sea in the background of the Old Port, making for an ideal day in France’s oldest city.

The relay will start on Thurs­day with former Olympique de Marseille footballers Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Drogba and Basile Boli, as well as three-star chef Alexandre Mazzia among the torch bearers.

More than 10,000 people will take part in the torch relay before the flame reaches Paris and is installed near the Louvre, in the Jardin des Tuileries.Extremely tight security will be a constant feature as the torch travels through more than 450 French towns and cities, and passes by dozens of tourist attractions including the Mont Saint Michel.

Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Organisers have promised a “spectacular” and “iconic” Olympics, with much of the sport set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

In the absence of a much-feared security scare, the opening ceremony will take place in boats on the river Seine in a radical departure from past Games which have opened in the main stadium.

All of the major infrastructure has been completed with only two new permanent sporting venues built in a bid to reduce the financial cost and carbon emissions of the global extravaganza.

The idea of the torch rally harks back to the ancient Olympics when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games.

The Paris Olympics will run from July 26-August 11, followed by the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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