The end of a long struggle? Not yet. But barring an unlikely turn of events, the Paris 2024 OCOG will soon be able to close the thick file on the preliminary site of the Olympic basketball tournament. With the mention: “Settled“.
Proof of the progress of the discussions and work was the presence of Tony Estanguet, the president of the OCOG, and Andreas Zagklis, the secretary general of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), on Thursday 2 March in Lille, at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium, the proposed site for the preliminary phase (photo above, from right to left). The two men visited the site together, met with local elected officials and answered questions from the media. This meeting and its media exposure alone speak volumes about the upcoming outcome of a long-standing dispute between the two parties.
But be careful, everything is not yet definitively wrapped up. Tony Estanguet and Andreas Zagklis did not use the same mode to talk about the upcoming Olympic tournament in northern France, a two-hour drive from the athletes’ village. The OCOG president dared to be very assertive about the future. The FIBA envoy opted for a more measured conditional.
“Basketball and handball will be played in Lille in 2024,” said Tony Estanguet. “We still have a certain amount of work to do together, with the international federations, with the local players, to make these two great moments great successes. We are very confident in our ability to answer all the questions in the coming months.”
The message is clear: the Pierre-Mauroy stadium will indeed host the group phase of the Olympic basketball tournament. The question no longer even arises for the OCOG. How could it, when the first stage of the Olympic Games ticketing process is due to end in ten days’ time? The official ticketing platform stipulates that the matches will be played in the huge venue of Villeneuve d’Ascq, in the suburbs of Lille. There is no way back.
On the FIBA side, however, the green light has not yet been given. Andreas Zagklis explained it in no uncertain terms on Thursday 2 March: “We want to come here provided that these issues are resolved. Paris 2024 has made a lot of progress in recent months, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The end of the tunnel, then. But not yet the end of the tunnel. For the international body, the conditions set last year have not yet been fully met. They mainly concern the air conditioning of the Pierre-Mauroy stadium, required by FIBA to avoid the risks of a slippery floor and to guarantee the safety of the players.
Several studies have been carried out since last year, for final configurations and costs that have proved to be very variable. At this stage, the matter is not yet settled. A meeting between the two parties was held at the beginning of the week, before the visit to Lille of Tony Estanguet and Andreas Zagklis. It did not lead to an agreement.
The dispute is about the insulation of the northern stadium. In its Olympic configuration, the Pierre-Mauroy stadium would not be sufficiently hermetic. The risk of condensation, in case of strong heat outside, would not be ruled out.
With just over 500 days to go before the opening of the Olympic Games (26 July to 11 August), these very technical issues are no longer such that they call into question the choice of Lille for the first week of basketball. But they are delaying the final green light from FIBA.
Another subject still under discussion: the transport of teams between the village and the competition site. The option envisaged for a moment of special TGV is now ruled out. The players and their staff will travel by bus. This will be slower and more uncertain, as there are no Olympic lanes on such a long journey.
In front of the press on Thursday 2 March, Andreas Zagklis explained very diplomatically: “I don’t think Tony Estanguet and I are saying different things. We are exactly on the same line.” Surely. But, unlike the OCOG, FIBA is not yet ready to abandon the conditional mode completely.