Short but extensive. Unveiled at the end of last week, the torch relay for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games looks set to reconcile the irreconcilable. Reduced to just four days, the route will take in every region of mainland France.
How? The COJO explained it without hiding its pride: no less than twelve flames will be carried simultaneously over the four days of the relay. Twelve, the number of days of the Paralympic Games (August 28 to September 8).
The first, and most authentic, was lit in mid-August in Stoke Mandeville, England, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. On Sunday August 25, a battalion of 24 British relay runners will take it into the Channel Tunnel. Halfway through its underwater section, it will be passed on to a similarly sized group of French athletes, both able-bodied and disabled. The “scouts“, the name given by the Paris 2024 OCOG to the torchbearers, will then return to daylight in Calais, on the French side.
So far, nothing very unexpected. But what follows is less linear. As it leaves the tunnel, on the first day of its journey, the Paralympic flame will be multiplied thanks to the magic of digital technology. Eleven other torches will be lit in as many French towns, all on the outskirts of the country. The list includes Montpellier, Lourdes and Antibes in the south, Lorient and Saint-Malo in the west, Valenciennes in the north and Strasbourg in the east.
On the second day, Monday August 26, the twelve flames will converge on Paris, but with a stopover before reaching the Ile-de-France region. They will land in a number of cities that have been excluded from the Olympic torch route for political and economic reasons, including Lyon and Limoges. In each case, a 2 km loop will be drawn through the streets, and a “torch festival” will be organized to celebrate the torch and its passage through the region.
The following day, the procession continues in the Paris region. The original flame will cross Seine-Saint-Denis, while the others will visit the rest of the départements. Finally, on Wednesday August 28, the day of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, the twelve torches will become one. It will tour Paris through all its arrondissements, before ending its journey on the Place de la Concorde.
In all, the operation should mobilize a thousand scouts. Eight hundred of them will trot solo, while the other two hundred will do so in 24-person relays. For the former, the effort will be reduced to 200 metres, for a moment of eternity lasting just 4 minutes. In relays, the time will be doubled to eight minutes.
As the OCOG points out, the choice of the fifty or so towns through which the twelve relays will pass is not a matter of chance, nor is it based on a simple geographical sequence. It is based on a subtle mix of criteria, including heritage, history, respect for inclusion and commitment to Paralympic sport. Blois is the birthplace of Marie-Amélie Le Fur, President of the French Paralympic and Sports Committee (CPSF). Lorient is the birthplace of Damien Seguin, double Paralympic sailing champion and flag-bearer for the French delegation at the London 2012 Games.
Also noteworthy is the decision not to ask for any financial contribution from the communities crossed. Unlike the Olympic torch relay, the cost of the operation is borne by the COJO and the official sponsors of the route, Coca-Cola, Banques Populaires and Caisses d’Epargne. This time, there’s no risk of controversy.