Its selection rules, very uneven participation and the remoteness of the matches have often kept football away from the Olympic atmosphere. On paper, the Paris 2024 Games will face the same pitfalls. Unless the hoped-for presence of Kilian Mbappé is enough to reverse the trend.
Ludovic Heurley (pictured above), in charge of football and cecifoot at the Paris 2024 OCOG, explained to FrancsJeux as part of the series of interviews with the organising committee’s sports managers: the challenge is not an easy one. But for this former member of the FFF, the round ball could well be won over next year by the spirit of the Games.
FrancsJeux: What was your life like before the Paris 2024 OCOG?
Ludovic Heurley: I’m a child of the French Football Federation (FFF). I worked there for 16 years. For the first five or six years, I worked in the ticketing department. Then I moved on to organising the French national teams, where I was in charge of the U-21s and women’s teams. For the last four years, before joining the Paris 2024 OCOG, my assignments were more international. I was seconded to UEFA to look after events.
What was your past experience of the Olympic Games?
I experienced the Tokyo 2020 Games from the inside, on behalf of FIFA. I was assigned to the Sapporo site, in the prefecture of Hokkaido. It was a real challenge, with 11 matches played in just seven days. It was a very special experience, given the health situation. Quite terrifying and strange at first, but in the end quite incredible.
What do you remember most about the Games?
On a human level, following the progress of one of my colleagues, Gilles de la Bourdonnaye, the table tennis sports manager at the Paris 2024 OCOG, at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. I was very impressed by the performance of some of the table tennis players, in particular an Egyptian who played holding his racket in his mouth. I was also impressed by Neymar’s penalty during the penalty shoot-out in the final of the football tournament at the Rio 2016 Games. The context was one of extreme tension, against Germany, two years after the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. Neymar took the last penalty. He scored. For many, it remains one of the greatest moments in football history in terms of mental strength.
What’s at the top of the pile on your desk?
There are two issues at the top of the pile that need to be concluded quickly after months of exchanges and discussions with FIFA. The first concerns the final list of training pitches for teams qualifying for the Olympic Games. We need to reach an agreement with FIFA. The second issue concerns the location of VAR and its team. We are making progress and it should be installed at the IBC (the International Broadcast Centre). FIFA is very involved in the Games, and is also very vigilant, particularly on issues relating to referees.
The football and cecifoot venues: what are their strengths and challenges in the run-up to the Games?
For the Olympic football tournament, we will have seven stadiums at our disposal in France, all of which are regularly used during the season (Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Nantes and Marseille). The programme includes 58 matches – men’s and women’s – in just 18 days. By way of comparison, a World Cup involves 64 matches in a month. The challenge will be to spread the Olympic spirit, despite the distance from Paris, and to ensure that football finds its rightful place at the Games. For cecifoot at the Paralympic Games, the situation is simpler. The competition will take place in Paris, at the Eiffel Tower stadium, in the heart of the Champ-de-Mars, with players staying in the athletes’ village. The site will have been used for beach volleyball during the Olympic Games. We’re going to have to remove the tonnes of sand used for the pitches, then lay a solid, noise-free floor and an artificial turf pitch. We’ll have plenty of time to make the transition, but it still promises to be a technical feat. The challenge for cecifoot will be to give the event a social dimension that will remain after the Games. Proving that everyone can play sport, whatever their disability.
Paris 2024 will be a success for football and cecifoot if…
The priority remains the experience of the athletes. For football, the Paris 2024 Games will be a success if the competition allows itself to be won over by the Olympic spirit, despite the distance from Paris. The players are very attached to the Games. And with the event taking place in Europe, where the majority of the players are based, there should be plenty of participation. As far as cecifoot is concerned, we will have succeeded if the spotlight stays on once the competition is over. The flame must not be extinguished on the evening of the closing ceremony.