Society / June 20, 2024

What Happens to the Paris Olympics if National Rally Wins?

If Macron’s snap-election gambit fails, the far right could be in power and use the Games to legitimize its politics.

Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff
Protesters hold inflatable tubes in Olympic colors

The collective Le Revers de la Medaille (The Other Side of the Medal) during a March 24 protest against social inequality exacerbated by the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

(Adnan Farzat / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In a madcap gambit, French President Emmanuel Macron has dissolved the National Assembly and called for snap elections. Macron is choosing to test the popular support of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, which just won over 30 percent of the vote in the European Parliament elections. Macron, a centrist, may see positive outcomes no matter the election results: Either support for National Rally craters when people enter the voting booth and confront actually putting the far-right party into power or National Rally rules over a divided government and, when faced with actual governing decisions, falls on its face. Macron is blithe enough to risk empowering those who flirt with fascism, insensitive to the attacks that would be unleashed on the most vulnerable French citizens if the RN seizes control of the levers of government. 

During this political maelstrom, Paris will host the 2024 Olympics. The Olympic opening ceremony will take place on July 26, less than three weeks after the snap elections. Even before all this, the Paris 2024 Olympics was a cauldron of contention ready to boil over.

Activists have been planning to use the Olympics as an international platform to raise their demands. Protesters have taken aim at the social and economic costs of the Games, linking the exorbitant price tag of the hosting to drastic cuts in workers’ benefits. There have been demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine. Groups like Le Revers de la Médaille (The Other Side of the Medal) are organizing against the Olympics-induced displacement of the unhoused and migrants who have been rounded up and dumped in other cities in advance of the Olympics.

In the face of this organized dissent from the left, Macron may have just gifted National Rally a golden opportunity to sportswash—to use the Games to normalize fascistic discourse and legitimize Le Pen and her right-hand man, Jordan Bardella, on the world stage. Even if the National Rally loses, its leadership will be the talk of international politics right when the spotlight of the Olympics shines down.

If they do win, Bardella will likely be elevated to prime minister. Bardella, the 28-year-old protégé of Le Pen, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in French politics on the back of his TikTok presence, designer suits, and savage Islamophobia.

Handing the reins to Bardella would be a dangerous game, Cole Stangler, author of Paris is Not Dead, explained to us: “If Bardella became prime minister, it would be more than just an embarrassment for France on the international stage. Having the RN in power would come with real consequences for millions of people: The party wants to eliminate scores of essential welfare and housing benefits for non–French citizens, ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants, and crack down on civil liberties. We also already know the president and his allies are willing to compromise on many of these issues themselves. It’s easy to forget that Emmanuel Macron actually campaigned in 2017 on weakening the far right. Instead, he’s done more to empower it than any other president in the history of the Fifth Republic.”

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, an Olympics super fan, was taken aback by Macron’s decision to call a snap election on the eve of the Games. She said, “Like a lot of people I was stunned to hear the president decide to do a dissolution [of parliament],” adding that “a dissolution just before the Games, it’s really something that is extremely unsettling.”

Current Issue

Cover of July 2024 Issue

An all-consuming snap election affects the Olympics in a variety of ways. The election will require already-stretched security officials to work in overdrive before pivoting to the most complex peacetime event that France has staged in the 21st century. Installing a new security minister days before the Games is tricky business. Complicating matters, the Paris 2024 opening ceremony will not be staged in a stadium, but instead will float on boats down the Seine.

When we asked Natsuko Sasaki, an organizer with the anti-Games group Saccage 2024, how the snap election is affecting plans for anti-Olympics activism, she told us, “We’ve been planning to make a large coalition among anti-Olympic and not precisely anti-Olympic but concerned with the consequences. But since Macron’s dissolution, many organizations have changed their schedule in order to put the priority on the fight against the far right.” Sasaki added, “This shift is, of course, completely legitimate and understandable. However, a new issue is emerging before our eyes: What should we do against Le Pen’s Olympics?”

One group that seems wholly unconcerned with the rise of authoritarianism is the International Olympic Committee. After all, the IOC has long been comfortable in the presence of fascists. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were infamously staged in Nazi Germany despite the open persecution of Jews and Roma people. Hitler sympathizer Avery Brundage ran the IOC from 1952 to 1972. Juan Antonio Samaranch, an unrepentant fascist functionary under Francisco Franco, ruled the IOC from 1980 to 2001. Perhaps that’s why they are being so sanguine in the face of major social upheaval. Current IOC President Thomas Bach proclaimed that Macron’s decision “will not disturb the Olympics.” He added, “We will have a new government and a new parliament and everyone is going to support the Olympics.”

IOC member Guy Drut of France went further. Not only did the former right-wing MP tell Le Monde, “I approve of the union of the right and the alliance with the National Rally,” thereby normalizing the fascist threat from the center right. He also added, “The Olympic Games will go ahead just fine. The attacks in Munich in 1972 didn’t prevent the Games from taking place. There’s no reason why things should go wrong under an RN government.”

Natsuko Sasaki made another point plain: If the National Rally comes to power, “Paris 2024 will look like Berlin 1936.”

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports. He is also the coproducer and writer of the new documentary Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL.

Jules Boykoff

Jules Boykoff is a professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon and the author of six books on the Olympic Games, most recently What Are the Olympics For?

More from The Nation

Five people (four in suits, one woman in traditional Palestinian dress) stand behind Olympic rings. The middle two hold a certificate.

Palestinian Olympians Are Competing as Their World Burns Palestinian Olympians Are Competing as Their World Burns

Palestinian Olympians will make history in Paris, despite unfathomable conditions of genocide.

Dave Zirin

Participants wave French national tricolors as fireworks light up the sky during an election night rally following the first results of the second round of France's legislative election at Place de la République in Paris on July 7, 2024.

France Avoids Disaster. Can the Olympics Do the Same? France Avoids Disaster. Can the Olympics Do the Same?

The socialist mayor of Paris has promised that the Olympics can make Paris greener, cleaner, and safer. With the left triumphant, will this actually happen?

Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff

Reggie Jackson playing baseball

Reggie Jackson Speaks the Ugly Truth About Baseball’s Past Reggie Jackson Speaks the Ugly Truth About Baseball’s Past

The baseball legend tells the Fox Sports audience what it was like playing baseball in the 1960s in the South.

Dave Zirin

San Francisco Giant center fielder Willie Mays swings his bat during spring training in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 24, 1961.

Willie Mays Was Baseball’s Last Mythic Hero Willie Mays Was Baseball’s Last Mythic Hero

The center fielder, who died at 93, was the last surviving star who began his career in Black baseball.

Obituary / Bijan C. Bayne

Palestine players celebrate after Nour Youseff of Palestine scores her side's second during the international solidarity match between Bohemians and Palestine at Dalymount Park in Dublin on May 15, 2024.

How the Sports Media Is Manufacturing Consent Over Gaza How the Sports Media Is Manufacturing Consent Over Gaza

Many sports journalists are afraid to touch the issue of Palestine—but the stories are there waiting to be told.

Dave Zirin

Kyrie Irving wears

The Metamorphosis of Kyrie Irving The Metamorphosis of Kyrie Irving

The Dallas Mavericks guard could’ve left the NBA a villain, but he’s now played long enough to become a hero.

Dave Zirin