The Paris Olympics Are Developing a Familiar Stench

The Paris Olympics Are Developing a Familiar Stench

The Paris Olympics Are Developing a Familiar Stench

A recent raid shows that the Olympic corruption follies aren’t going anywhere. 


The Olympics have long been plagued by overspending, forced displacement, militarized policing, and false promises, but organizers of the Paris Olympics promised that under their stewardship, the 2024 Games would mark a break from its sordid history. “We want the legacy to be different,” Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympics, told Time magazine a year ago.

It turns out the Paris Games might not be so different after all. On Tuesday, French financial police raided and searched the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics, reportedly related to two investigations into the awarding of public contracts. This is an alarming echo of the two preceding Summer Games—Tokyo 2020 and Rio de Janeiro 2016—which were plagued by rampant corruption leading to a slew of convictions. In Paris, we appear to be witnessing Olympic Corruption 3.0—and that’s just within the last 10 years.

Olympic corruption tends to come in two stages: the bribery/vote-buying during the bid phase of the Games and then the graft that comes with the billions washing through the host country as the massive construction and security operation comes together. Paris 2024 may have avoided the former but doesn’t seem exempt from the latter. The French prosecutor’s office in charge of financial crime stated that the searches were related to potential conflict-of-interest inquiries as well as potential embezzlement and favoritism. In addition to the Paris 2024 headquarters, the public body charged with overseeing Olympic construction, Solideo, was also searched by police. One investigation was reportedly opened in 2017 and the other began in 2022.

To people in Japan, this must sound hauntingly familiar. Earlier this month, oversight commissioners from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government slammed Tokyo Olympics organizers over reams of corruption allegations related to bribery and bid-rigging. More than a dozen people have been indicted on corruption charges, and more have already been convicted on bribery charges and handed suspended sentences. In addition, former executives of Sun Arrow Inc., a stuffed-animal maker, received suspended prison terms for bribing former head of the advertising behemoth Dentsu and 2020 Olympic organizing committee executive Haruyuki Takahashi. Tokyo prosecutors have indicted a number of additional companies, including Dentsu, over their own alleged bid-rigging tied to Olympic test events.

And let’s not forget that French prosecutors have also accused Haruyuki Takahashi of bribing IOC members for the votes that got Tokyo the Games in the first place. Takahashi allegedly used $8.2 million he got from the Tokyo bid committee to scrounge up IOC votes. Takahashi has conceded only that he provided modest presents—like cameras and a Seiko watch—to IOC members.

Before Tokyo, the 2016 Rio Olympics left their own stain. The former president of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, was sentenced in 2021 to more than 30 years in prison after being convicted on a range of charges, from corruption and criminal organization to money laundering and tax evasion. Amid the investigation by French and Brazilian prosecutors, police raided Nuzman’s posh apartment in Rio and discovered around $155,000 in cash and a key to a security box in Switzerland where they found 16 gold bars. Nuzman, a longtime Brazilian Olympic powerbroker and member of the International Olympic Committee, is still listed as an “honorary member” on the IOC’s roster, though with a “—” symbol denoting that he is “suspended.”

New York University professor Christopher Gaffney, who from 2009 to 2014 lived in Rio de Janeiro, where he taught at the Universidade Federal Fluminese, told us, “The IOC is structurally unable to move past its strongman culture, of which Nuzman was a key figure. These patronage systems enable corruption to flourish, and with no checks and balances on the IOC, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it happening again.”

As for Paris, the raid of the Olympic headquarters occurred on the very same day that a group of undocumented workers sued numerous construction firms responsible for building infrastructure for the Games. Laborers say that the companies forced them to work overtime and without proper contracts. What is remarkable is not that construction firms working for the Olympics are allegedly exploiting workers and that five-ring corruption is bubbling to the surface. It’s that we are learning all this before the Olympics—and we still have more than a year to go before the Games kick off in July 2024.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has claimed that the Paris Games would ring in “a new era for the Olympic Games.” Instead, beneath la superficie Parisienne, it is shaping up to be a whole lot of the same.

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