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Olympics

Paris Olympic bid group avoids talk about French election, while L.A. keeps its focus on 2024

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The Eiffel Tower is lit up on Feb. 3 with colors during the launch of its campaign as candidate for the 2024 Olympic summer games in Paris.
(Francois Mori / Associated Press)

As France’s presidential election nears Sunday with lightning-rod candidate Marine Le Pen closing the gap on her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, the Paris 2024 Olympic bid group would rather avoid discussion of contending against Los Angeles for the Summer Games under a Le Pen presidency.

“You know what? I’ll be very happy to call you in two weeks and I’ll give you a comment, but I don’t want to comment right now on the results of this election,” Paris 2024 bid chief Tony Estanguet said.

“ … We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. But we decide where to put the Olympic village. We decide the global concept that has been there since the beginning.”

If elected to a five-year term, Le Pen would clinch a leadership position through most of the process leading to the Games.

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Given her divisive rhetoric, which has infuriated some citizens and enraged human-rights figures, the repercussions are a great unknown.

The daughter of a former National Front party co-leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has uttered toxic statements that include referring to the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history,” Marine Le Pen said last month that “France isn’t responsible” for the tragic “Vel d’Hiv” episode in 1942 when 13,000 Jews from Paris were rounded up by French police and housed in an indoor cycling stadium, bound for Auschwitz.

Preaching isolationist and populist views in line with Brexitand the election of President Donald Trump, Le Pen has inserted her voice into the Olympic movement by chiding the Paris bid’s English slogan, “Made For Sharing,” which briefly hung under the Eiffel Tower.

Le Pen’s talk, however, now has Paris officials engaged in verbal gymnastics to defuse politics and focus on sport while Los Angeles touts its diversity and creativity.

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Although, Los Angeles will also face questions regarding the new president.

Questions about Trump and L.A.’s bid were amplified at the recent 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where International Olympic Committee members expressed concerns about Trump’s positions on NATO, international trade and immigration.

LA 2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman made it clear, like Paris, that Los Angeles is bidding for the Games without delay.

“Los Angeles is the right city for 2024 at this important time for the Olympic Movement and is only bidding for 2024,” Wasserman said in a statement emailed to The Times. “With no permanent venues to build and 88% public support, LA 2024 offers the lowest risk and truly sustainable solution for the future of the Olympic Movement in 2024 and beyond.”

An International Olympic Committee Evaluation Committee is set to review Paris’ and Los Angeles’ infrastructure and venues this month and the cities will make presentations at IOC headquarters in Switzerland in July pending a formal vote Sept. 13 in Lima, Peru, among 195 IOC members.

Speculation increases for a so-called “double allocation” that would award Paris and Los Angeles the 2024 and 2028 Games, but Paris has said it wants to go first.

Estanguet, a former IOC voting member, couldn’t hide his confidence about Paris’ position in this rare two-horse race.

“With several proposals, it’s difficult to compare,” he said. “It’s easier for the jury with two. We’ll have to be more clear, stronger in the way of convincing, but I like this challenge and we have everything on our side to win this battle. This is a very strong bid. We don’t see the weaknesses of Paris. … I don’t see why we should not win.”

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While bid cities are prohibited from publicly criticizing each other’s efforts, the Los Angeles entry was known to have chafed when word followed President Trump’s election that Paris was interested in “building bridges, not walls.”

“It’s not for L.A.,” Estanguet said. “It’s to send a message to the world that sharing bridges is the way we’re feeling, and France defends those values, so we really want to play our role for people.”

While Paris says that 95% of its venues are complete, one of Los Angeles’ most visible edges is its existing joint Olympic Village and training center at UCLA while Paris’ Olympic Village has yet to be constructed.

Estanguet said that his Olympic Village will leave houses where residents can live after the Games.

“We have the most compact concept — 22 sports within 10 kilometers of the village,” said Estanguet, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in canoeing. “This is what the athletes need. They’ve been training for four years. They don’t want to waste their energy in long transport the day of their competition. In my sport, the athletes want to train in the competition venue, and that’s quite the case in any sport.”

How greatly politics will define the competition is unclear, considering that China and Russia have staged Olympics in the past decade.

“More than ever, I think we are close to winning,” Estanguet said. “But it is not done, and we have to concentrate in the best possible way until the end.”

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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