— Published 25 March 2022

For Paris 2024, basketball is homeless

Let it be known: the Paris 2024 OCOG does not deny itself certain surprise effects. On Thursday 24 March, Tony Estanguet and his team demonstrated their taste for the unexpected with a press release published in the middle of the afternoon. It announced in choice terms a sudden hairpin turn in the thorny issue of the basketball venue for the next Olympic tournaments, both men’s and women’s.

Against all odds, then, the Paris 2024 OCOG has given in. It has thrown out Hall 6 of the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles, in the south of the capital, which was chosen at the end of 2020 as the site for the two preliminary phases. The decision was taken jointly by the organising committee and the international body of the discipline, FIBA.

In a joint press release, the two parties explain that they “did not choose the Arena Paris Sud 6 (Hall 6 of the Porte de Versailles) to organise the preliminary phase of the men’s and women’s basketball competitions of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games”. They say they have weighed the issue several times, holding numerous meetings to try to resolve the problem.

“But the results of the latest technical studies have led Paris 2024 and FIBA not to keep Hall 6 of the Porte de Versailles site, due to the specificities specific to the practice of basketball,” the statement continued.

The reasons are said to be technical. According to several sources, the hall in question had a number of drawbacks. The ceiling was too low (9m), poorly ventilated, damp and badly lit. It could not be equipped with the central block suspended above the pitch, where the time and score are displayed. More seriously, the lighting would have risked dazzling the players, from certain angles, when they shot towards the basket.

Beyond the purely technical reasons, the abandonment of the site chosen by the OCOG for nearly a year and a half can also be explained by the controversy of the last ten days. Several French players, runners-up at the Olympic Games last summer in Tokyo, criticised the organisers’ choice, although they were not familiar with the venue.

“How can we accept to see basketball, the most popular team sport at the Olympics, being sent to the exhibition centre? The ceiling is too low, the venue is not suitable,” tweeted Evan Fournier, the New York Knicks guard. “I’m not going to play in a room where I hit my head when I shoot, so it doesn’t make sense,” suggested Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz’s interior.

It’s not just a question of the players’ desire to influence a decision that they consider unworthy of their status. Evan Fournier, in particular, did not hesitate to mention on social networks that the hall in question was used every year for the Salon de l’Agriculture.

Last week, the director of sports for Paris 2024, Jean-Philippe Gatien, said he was not considering a plan B. As for Tony Estanguet, he repeated at the beginning of the week in Marseille that “overall, things are progressing rather well. We are regularly in contact with FIBA. We have a number of meetings this week to continue to improve the basketball file.” In both cases, there was little indication that the situation could be turned around.

Did the OCOG finally give in to the magnitude of the controversy, or did it prefer to side with the athletes and look for a venue more in line with their expectations? Both, no doubt.

With less than 900 days to go before the Paris 2024 Games, the Parisian organisers now have to find a fallback solution. A venue capable of accommodating at least 8,000 people and, above all, meeting the expectations of FIBA and the players, who are now in a strong position. Not a simple matter.

The most immediate option, at least on paper, would be to host both basketball tournaments at the AccorArena in Bercy, where the finals are to be held. The problem is that the Paris venue is already occupied by gymnastics, a behemoth of the Olympic Games, especially on the American side. Displacing the gymnasts to make room for the basketball players would only stifle one problem and ignite another.

The same scenario applies to the future Arena at Porte de la Chapelle, under construction in the north of Paris. It is planned for badminton.

The province? The cities of Orléans and Lyon have already applied. They could represent a low-cost fallback solution. But the OCOG has incurred the wrath of French handball by choosing to relocate the Olympic tournament to Lille, a two-hour drive from the capital. How would Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert and other NBA stars react to the prospect of experiencing the Paris 2024 Games from Lyon or Orléans?