A page of history will be written in the Hauts-de-Seine, west of the French capital, during the Paris 2024 Games. The Yves-du-Manoir stadium, the last vestige of the Olympic appointment in 1924, will become the first – and only – competition site used for two editions of the Games. To 100 years of distance.
Unlikely, and a little incongruous: the historical enclosure of Colombes will live its second Olympic life to the sound of the ball and the sticks of field hockey on grass. A sport little known to the French public.
At the helm of the discipline within the OCOG Paris 2024: Antoine Berger (photo above). FrancsJeux continues its series of interviews with the sports managers of the organizing committee with this former ski instructor, who also played rugby 7s.
FrancsJeux: Your life before the Paris 2024 OCOG?
Antoine Berger: I come from the mountain and the world of skiing. I first worked as a marketing and export manager in Europe for ski and snowboard brands. Then I branched out into a project in rugby 7s, in 2017, becoming responsible for a Seven Series stage in Singapore and another, female, organized in France. The following year, I joined the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in Lausanne, as “project and event manager”. I was in charge of the organization of field hockey competitions in multi-sport events, Olympic Games, Youth Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games. In parallel, I was in charge of the development of hockey5s, the short format of the discipline.
Your past experience of the Olympic Games?
The first one is the Youth Games, in their summer version, in Buenos Aires in 2018, in a great field hockey country. I followed the whole planning phase of the field hockey tournament, played on the hockey5s format, and then its more operational organization on site, during the event. For the Tokyo 2020 Games, the preparation of the competitions occupied my daily life since I joined the FIH in 2018. The Games were at the heart of my project, from their planning with the test-event, the planning, to the event in Japan, where I worked closely with the Japanese sport manager of field hockey.
What is your most vivid memory of the Games?
My first memory of the Olympic Games was in Sydney 2000. Especially the moment when Cathy Freeman lit the flame during the opening ceremony. I was not yet 10 years old, I was in front of my television, too young to understand the dimension and the importance of the event, but it marked me much. More recently, the final of the men’s field hockey tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Games, with Belgium’s victory on penalties against Australia. My first final as a privileged witness. The tension was extreme until the last moments. For me, it was also the end of a personal project.
What’s at the top of the pile on your desk?
The legacy that the Paris 2024 Games will leave for field hockey. Today, it remains a relatively minor sport in France, unlike some other nations. I attach a lot of importance to this notion of legacy, it is very close to my heart. I would like to contribute to better establish the discipline in the French sports landscape after the Olympic Games, to make it known to the general public, to share its values. Another priority, as for the other OCOG sport managers, is the quality of the athletes’ experience. We need to put them in the best conditions to achieve great performances. And, in turn, guarantee the best possible experience for the public as well.
The field hockey site: its assets, the challenge in the perspective of the Games?
We are fortunate and honored, but also responsible, to have the Yves-du-Manoir Stadium in Colombes. It is a historic site, since it was used for the Paris Games in 1924, notably for athletics and ceremonies. It is the only facility that has hosted two editions of the Olympic Games a century apart. A great story to tell, a magnificent legacy project. But, at the same time, an important renovation and rehabilitation project, not only for the competition fields, but also for the whole playground used daily by the schools in the area. Three fields will be installed for the Games, two of which will remain after the competition, dedicated exclusively to field hockey. Eventually, the Yves-du-Manoir stadium will house the Maison du Hockey, where the French federation will be based.
Paris 2024 will be a success for field hockey if…
I would like to see as many people as possible in the stands. For the two competition fields, the total capacity will be 18,000 seats. We will have succeeded in the Games if the stadium is full as often as possible, with a great enthusiasm in the public, and a presentation that will mix sport, spectacle and the transmission of field hockey values. We can also talk about success after the Games if the French federation records an increase in the number of its members.