Olympics 2024: Nonprofit organisation Surfrider warns of ‘alarming’ discovery months before Paris Games

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A non-profit organisation has raised alarm bells ahead of the Paris Olympics, warning of serious water contamination in the Seine River where athletes will be competing.

A test carried out by the Surfrider Foundation found E. coli and enterococci bacteria levels above recommended thresholds at the Pont Alexandre III.

They have described the findings as “alarming”.

The area is the designated finish line for the 10km marathon swim and the Olympic and Paralympic triathlons for the upcoming event, which begins in July.

But officials from the Ile-de-France prefecture and Paris’s deputy mayor for sports Pierre Rabadan have countered these concerns, arguing that the water quality of the Seine has been steadily improving and will be suitable for swimming by the time of the Summer Games.

They cited a $1.5 billion river clean-up plan that includes the implementation of key infrastructure projects in April and May.

The Seine has been historically deemed unsuitable for swimming, with a ban on entering the water in place for a century due to health risks from pollution.

Cleaning the river was a major promise by Parisian authorities in their bid to host the 2024 Olympics, aiming to make the river a central feature of the Games, including during the Opening Ceremonies.

The Surfrider Foundation says the issue shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought and is continually campaigning for more diligence placed on sustaining the major Parisian landmark.

“It is essential that the different stakeholders understand that the health of athletes and future swimmers should not be relegated to the background,” the organisation said in a statement on Monday.

“This is a public health issue that should not be overshadowed by a fake postcard image. The Olympic flame must continue to shine in the territories well after the Games have been held and commitments must keep their promises without having to pray daily so it doesn’t rain.

“On behalf of our entire community concerned for the health of athletes and future bathers, we hope that our request will be heard in order to be able to reassure everyone about the efficiency of the compliance work.”

Previous events planned in the Seine, like the Open Water Swimming World Cup and Olympic test events in August, were cancelled due to poor water quality following a heavy period of rainfall.

The Ile-de-France prefecture detailed ongoing efforts to improve the river’s condition, including the construction of the Austerlitz storm water storage basin and the activation of water treatment plant disinfection units specifically for the Games.

Deputy Mayor Rabadan emphasised the continuous improvement in the Seine’s water quality, supported by the city’s measurements indicating better conditions compared to previous winters.

“It’s well known that the [winter] period, which is a time with a lot of rain, is not suited for swimming,” Rabadan said.

“There is really a continuous improvement in the quality of the Seine.”

The official did however admit some Olympic and Paralympic swimming events could be delayed by several days to ensure water safety.

Post-Olympics, there are plans to open over 20 swimmable sites along the Seine to the public, as part of a broader initiative to reconnect residents and tourists with the urban river and offer recreational spaces during increasingly hot summers.

Russian, Belarusian athletes ‘not welcome’: Paris Mayor

French politicians are not backing down on their stance against the Ukraine war, with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo declaring Russian and Belarusian athletes are “not welcome” at the Olympics this year.

“I want to tell Russian and Belarusian athletes that they are not welcome in Paris and to tell Ukrainian athletes and all the Ukrainian people that we support them very strongly,” Hidalgo said in a video posted by Ukrainian YouTube channel, United News.

Hidalgo made her comments on a trip to Kyiv where she visited a training centre for Ukrainian athletes.

Russian athletes can compete in the Paris Olympics, which run from July 26 until August 11 but only as neutrals.

Russia and Belarus have been banned from taking part in the opening ceremony which will be staged on the River Seine in the heart of the city.

In response, Moscow launched a furious tirade at the International Olympic Committee, arguing the IOC’s restrictions on Russian athletes amounted to “neo-Nazism”.

The IOC suspended Russia from the 2024 Games last year, but gave the green light for its athletes to compete as neutrals as long as they did not actively support the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine.