— Published 20 December 2021

FrancsJeux awards: Tony Estanguet, leader of the year (1)

The competition was strong. Two women, Nicole Hoevertsz, the former artistic swimmer from Aruba, elected this year to the IOC vice-presidency, and Kirsty Coventry, also a former competitor (double Olympic champion in the 200m backstroke), former president of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, now an individual member of the body, placed at the head of the Brisbane 2032 Games Coordination Commission. Two men, the indefatigable Australian John Coates, chairman of the Tokyo 2020 Games Coordination Commission, the main architect of Brisbane’s victory in the race for the 2032 Summer Games, and the Italian Ivo Ferriani, who in just a few years has become one of the most influential leaders of the Olympic movement, member of the IOC Executive Board, president of GAISF, SportAccord and the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF).

Four heavyweights. But the jury of the first FrancsJeux awards did not hesitate. Invited to designate the leader of the year 2021, its nineteen members chose Tony Estanguet. The president of the Paris 2024 Games organising committee received 42% of the votes from an international panel of experts and journalists from more than half a dozen countries (France, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Canada, Gabon and Great Britain).

With less than 1,000 days to go before the opening of the Paris 2024 Games, the three-time Olympic canoeing champion is getting a head start. He has taken the lead at a stage in the preparation of the Olympic and Paralympic event where the turmoil can sometimes be intractable. With less than three years to go, Rio 2016 was struggling with the economic crisis, budget shortfalls and delays in venue construction. With a thousand days to go before the flame is lit, Tokyo 2020 was experiencing a historic cost increase and had to revise its venue map to try to reduce the bill.

Nothing like that for Paris 2024. Of course, the OCOG’s budget has been revised upwards. Established at 3.8 billion euros at the beginning of the race, it is now slightly higher (3.9 billion). But the surge in spending promised by some analysts has not yet taken place. With less than 1,000 days to go, it has not been ruled out, but today it seems rather unthreatening.

At the risk of repeating himself, Tony Estanguet has insisted since day one on the OCOG’s desire to “break the codes” and “move the lines”. The refrain is not new. The Frenchman does not have a monopoly on it. But the recent adoption by the Paris 2024 board of directors of the principle of an opening ceremony on the Seine illustrates the ability of the Paris organisers to translate words into action. The issue was nevertheless risky and its opponents numerous.

With just over two and a half years to go before the Paris 2024 Games, anything can still happen. The Tokyo 2020 soap opera has shown that the preparation of the Games can have its share of unpleasant surprises right up to the last day. The French presidential campaign, in particular, is an obstacle for the Paris 2024 OCOG to overcome without getting its feet wet.

Tony Estanguet knows this. Last August, in an interview outside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, he told us that he approaches his role as president of the OCOG in the same way as he did his sporting career, with the conviction that a race is never won before the finish line, but that it can be lost well before the last gate.  He also explained to us his obsession with wanting to bring together all the players involved in the project, and above all to maintain the unity initiated during the bidding phase until the end.

Close to Emmanuel Macron, but very attached to keeping a political neutrality, Tony Estanguet seems to be able to resist the inevitable tensions of the presidential campaign.

Paradoxically, Tony Estanguet was named by the jury of FrancsJeux as leader of the year at the end of an exercise in which he abandoned his international mandates. He gave up his IOC membership card, where he had sat since the London 2012 Games as a member of the Athletes’ Commission. He has decided not to stand for re-election as vice-president of the International Canoe and Kayak Federation (ICF). He explained that he wanted to concentrate fully on his role as President of the Paris 2024 OCOG. The choice of reason.