All roads lead to the OCOG Paris 2024. Mathieu Mériaux is a perfect example. Born in the North of France, a former fencer who became a fencing instructor, he spent nearly two decades in Australia before joining the adventure of the next Summer Games.
Fencing, triathlon, volleyball, the Franco-Australian multiplied his experiences in the sports movement down under, before taking a four-year diversions into the more codified world of mathematics.
As the volleyball manager for the Paris 2024 Games, he adds a new section to the bi-monthly series of interviews with the organising committee’s sports managers.
FrancsJeux: What was your life like before the Paris 2024 OCOG?
Mathieu Mériaux: Before joining the OCOG in the autumn of 2021, I lived in Canberra, Australia, where I left the world of sport to become the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Mathematics Association for four years. My role included organising mathematics competitions and selecting participants. But my background had been exclusively in sport. I grew up in France, in the North, where I practised fencing until I became a fencing master. In 2003, I moved to Perth, Australia, to teach my discipline. I stayed in Australia for 18 years, during which time I worked in the national fencing, triathlon and volleyball federations.
Your past experience of the Olympic Games?
I have been an insider at three consecutive Olympic Games. The first one was in London 2012, where I worked in the organising committee on the fencing competitions. Four years later, in Rio 2016, I accompanied the Australian beach volleyball team. Finally, I was an International Technical Official (ITO) for the volleyball tournaments at the Tokyo 2020 Games, on behalf of the International Federation (FIVB).
What is your favourite memory of the Games?
It is quite particular, as it is the incident involving a South Korean fencer, Shin A-lam, at the London Games in 2012. Unhappy with a refereeing decision, she sat on the piste in tears for an hour. The entire scene was broadcast live on television. We hadn’t worked on such a scenario in advance. A real crisis management, live. The next day, the image was on the front page of every newspaper in London. The incident was terrible for the fencer, but very rewarding for me. And it brought incredible media exposure to fencing. Another, more recent memory was the victory of the French men’s volleyball team in the final of the Tokyo 2020 Games. I was lucky enough to be a privileged witness, one of the few spectators in the room.
The file at the top of the pile on your desk?
At this stage of preparation, I am starting to work a lot on the sporting presentation of the competition: the look of the hall, the design of the site… How to use technology, in particular, to serve the tournament. But we also want, with my beach volleyball colleague, the former setter Yann Lavallée, to bring our personal touch to the organisation of our disciplines. We are going to innovate on the volunteer system, by setting up a novel experiment of rotations between volleyball and beach volleyball. For example, a volunteer could take care of an administrative task on Monday in volleyball, and then take on a court role the next day in beach volleyball.
The volleyball, beach volleyball and sitting volleyball venues: their strengths, the challenge in view of the Games?
I am the only OCOG sport manager involved in all three Paris clusters, North, West and Central. Volleyball will take place in Hall 1 of the Arena Paris Sud, at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre. We will be using the hall with the highest ceiling height. It has no technical problems and is perfectly suited to the organisation of a volleyball tournament, with two stands to be installed. For beach volleyball, the setting will be completely different, as the competition is scheduled to take place at the Eiffel Tower Stadium on the Champ-de-Mars. The site is grand and beautiful, with over 14,000 seats, but there are many trees to contend with. The challenge is to blend in with nature and the park to integrate the site harmoniously. Finally, sitting volleyball will be played during the Paralympic Games at the Arena Paris Nord in Villepinte. The site will have been used during the Olympic Games for boxing and one event – fencing – in the modern pentathlon. We will have to reconfigure it for sitting volleyball.