Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Week 28 (29 March - 4 April 2014)

It is almost universally expected that Paris will mount a bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The French sporting establishment has made no secret of its extended period of much-needed navel-gazing, led by the highly respected Bernard Lapasset, nor its objective: whipping their house into shape in time for a symbolic tilt at a centenary celebration of the capital's last Games in 1924.

But before Paris 2024 is even off the drawing board, problems seem to be mounting for the nascent bid. Jean-Claude Killy's abrupt resignation from the IOC shocked many and has robbed France of their most influential voice in the Olympic Movement. So far, the only brownfield site identified as a possible location for a new Olympic Stadium is buried deep in the Parisian banlieue, a world away from the city's most compelling bidding capital: architecture, cuisine and culture. The French public's indulgence for another expensive candidature is as robust as a stale mille-feuille: while the US will take on the 2024 race with their customary "must win" attitude, nervous France knows they "must not lose".

So how can Paris 2024 un-learn that Gallic capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of (possible) Olympic victory, as they did so dramatically in the final days of the 2012 race in Singapore? Under the merciless, microscopic scrutiny of hindsight, Paris 2012 has come to be regarded as a bid run by the men in suits: bureaucrats who failed to quicken the pulse at home and among the membership. Received wisdom stated that the French government should take a back seat this time around and leave it to the French NOC. But that was before Najat Vallaud-Belkacem became France's new Minister of Women's Rights, the City, Youth and Sports.

Vallaud-Belkacem's brief reads like an office directory of the Chateau de Vidy, so closely does it tally with the recurring themes of Thomas Bach's Olympic Agenda 2020. That the French government has created this position especially for the political tyro – still just 36 years old – says a great deal about its domestic policy agenda.

The message the Moroccan-born socialist delivered through her personal website and Twitter on her appointment sounds hauntingly like the climactic lines of an Olympic bid-winning final presentation:
"I am very happy to take on these new responsibilities in service to youth, sport and the city, at the heart of a grand project of Republican equality and national cohesion."

After the cultural complexities of Sochi and Rio, the IOC cannot help but notice that this may well be a government speaking their language. Government intervention put paid to Paris' hopes for 2012; maybe it is just what they need this time around?


Photo: Wikipedia