— Published 4 July 2023

“Spectator experience will make all the difference”.

A rare privilege: canoeing and kayaking will benefit from a single venue for all its disciplines at the Paris 2024 Games. In Vaires-sur-Marne, in the eastern Paris region. A compact aquatic complex, shared with rowing for the Olympic and Paralympic events.

At the helm is Cyril Nivel (photo above). FrancsJeux continues its series of interviews with the sports managers of the Paris 2024 OCOG with this former teacher from the Jura region, who was seized by a passion for the Olympics and canoeing at an early age.

FrancsJeux: What was your life like before the Paris 2024 OCOG?

Cyril Nivel: My background is rather atypical, because for a long time I had a professional activity far removed from the world of sport. I was a teacher in a technical school. But I was already involved in canoeing. In 2005, the French federation’s DTN, Philippe Graille, asked me to join him. I stayed with the FFCK for twelve years, where I was in charge of international events, then assistant DTN. In 2017, I was recruited by the international federation, the ICF, at its Lausanne headquarters. I was technical manager for all whitewater activities and disciplines. In this capacity, I participated in the integration of kayak cross as a new discipline in the program for the Paris 2024 Games.

Your past experience of the Olympic Games?

It’s twofold, since it’s both national and international. At the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, a time when I was working at the FFCK, I was in charge of the Tribu, the group of supporters formed around the French team to encourage and support the selected athletes. I was its referent. It was a very enriching experience, and I still use it a lot today in my role as sports manager for the Paris 2024 OCOG, as it enabled me to experience the Games from the spectator’s point of view. My Olympic journey continued at the 2018 Buenos Aires YOG, where I was the ICF technical delegate for the slalom events. Finally, I accompanied the technical delegate to the Tokyo 2020 Games, again on behalf of the international federation.

Any special memories of the Games?

It goes back to my childhood, but it goes a long way towards explaining my involvement in canoeing and kayaking and my passion for the sport. I was in the 5th and 4th grades at the Collège d’Oyonnax in the Jura mountains, where I was part of the sports section. The year was 1992. That year, the town had its first Olympic selection, slalom skier Sylvain Curinier. He won a silver medal at the Barcelona Games. I followed his career and his medal. His adventure got me hooked on canoeing and Olympism. I remember marching through the streets of Oyonnax carrying a flame with balloons.

The file at the top of the pile on your desk?

One subject is particularly close to my heart: the spectator experience. It’s not always at the top of the pile, but I try to make time for it, because in my opinion it’s what will make the difference. And the message delivered to the OCOG’s sports managers was very clear from the outset: deliver a different Games. I want the spectators who come to watch the canoeing and kayaking events, whether in slalom or road racing, to understand the activity and what they’re watching. A major effort is being made to present both the sport and the athletes.

Canoeing and kayaking venues: assets and challenges in the run-up to the Games?

For the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games, slalom, sprint and para-canoe events will be held at the same venue. The venue is Vaires-sur-Marne, a natural setting some thirty kilometers east of Paris. The most compact site in history for these disciplines. We’ll be sharing it with our rowing cousins. The site will be used for both training and competition, over a 14-day period – almost the entire Olympic Games. Our aim is to share facilities as much as possible between rowing and canoeing, taking advantage of existing buildings to reduce the need for temporary facilities. The dining room and athletes’ lounge will be shared between rowing and canoeing. The athletes will really be at the heart of the facility. For the Paralympic Games, we’ll be reworking the site to make it even more compact and accessible, by reducing distances.

Paris 2024 will be a success for canoeing if…

The Games are a unique and complex event. Everything must be combined in a delicate mesh: the athletes’ experience, that of the spectators, that of the media. We will have succeeded if all these “customers” with their often different expectations are satisfied with their experience at the Paris 2024 Games.