Paris 2024 Olympics organisers should “stay calm and focused” despite riots sweeping France just over a year before the games, Hugh Robertson, a British former minister responsible for London 2012, told AFP.
The 60-year-old former Conservative Party lawmaker spoke from experience as riots also gripped London and other urban areas in England in 2011 following the fatal shooting by police of a young man.
“When it happened to London 2012, at a similar time out from The Games, all the National Olympic Committees (NOC) and International Federations (IF) from round the world had just arrived in London to see the facilities,” he told AFP.
“I remember as the minister in charge of the Olympics addressing the NOC heads and IFs chiefs in the mayor’s building on the South Bank.
“Whilst I was saying there is nothing to worry about, there were plumes of smoke behind me in south London.”
Violence and looting hit France in a fourth night of protests Friday and the country had braced for disorder ahead of Saturday’s funeral for Nahel, 17, who was killed by an officer during a traffic stop.
The government said the violence had “lessened” compared to previous nights, but the interior ministry still reported 1,311 arrests nationwide overnight, and 79 injuries among police and gendarmes.
This is more than on any night since the protests began Tuesday, sparked by the death of Nahel.
The London Riots were sparked by the death of Mark Duggan — who was shot after the car he was travelling in was stopped by police — and took place from August 6-11 resulting in five deaths and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage.
Robertson — who retired from frontline politics in 2015 and has been chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) since 2016 — said the timing of the London riots could not have been worse.
– ‘Swing behind the Games’ –
Robertson was undeterred despite the violence engulfing the British capital during their visit and he urged the Paris organisers to stay the course.
“Stay calm and keep focused,” he said.
“The organisers have my sympathy and I am sure that they will sort this out.
“We are still over a year out from the opening ceremony which is a very long time in the course of organising something as big as the Olympic Games.”
Robertson says there is little danger the images being broadcast round the world will put people off.
“None! This is 14 months before The Opening Ceremony.
“People who have bought tickets for Paris already will come anyway; others will think that it is a long way away so will not be dissuaded from coming.”
The former British Army officer says the riots were not the main concern facing London Games chiefs ahead of the sporting spectacle.
“The issues with security were more nerve wracking,” he said.
“We always thought that the riots would pass.”
Robertson says that while some worried rioters might try and use the London Games as a high profile event to disrupt, he and the organisers were much more positive.
“The thing everybody misunderstands about The Olympic Games is that there is always a moment that comes when people realise what a wonderful shop window they are for a country and they swing behind the Games,” he said.
“For us it came a month before the Games began when the overwhelming majority of people decided that they wanted to make a success of it.
“I am sure that will be the same in France and the French will do a marvellous job and provide a fantastic welcome.”
Robertson says he knows from bitter experience that there will be more bumps in the road for the Paris chiefs.
“Every Olympic Games has these moments,” he said.
“Something else will come along over the next 13-14 months.
“It is in the nature of organising something as big as an Olympic Games that there will be many challenges for any organising Committee.”