Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Health Concerns Overshadow Upcoming Paris Olympics


With just about three months to go until the start of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, concerns over athlete safety are reaching a fever pitch. 

Olympic and French officials are faced with a challenging question: should Olympians be forced to swim in the Seine River, which has been off-limits for over a century due to dangerous levels of contamination and pollution?

The current plan for athletes competing in swimming events is to race in the Seine, the historic river that cuts through the center of Paris. While racing for one’s country in an iconic setting may sound like a dream, the reality is that the river has been deemed unsafe for anyone to swim in since 1923.

Outdated sewage systems from the Napoleonic era and waste produced by stormwater treatment facilities have left the Parisian part of the 481-mile river too polluted for people to swim in. For decades, the Seine has been contaminated with heavy metals and bacteria, including E. coli, which can be found in human fecal matter.

As part of the city’s 2015 bid for the 2024 Olympics, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo promised to have the Seine clean enough for safe competition. After it was confirmed that the city won the bid in 2017, a $1.5 billion plan was put in place to cleanse the river. The multi-faceted plan tackled the major pollution issues, namely updating the ancient sewage system and creating a rainwater storage tank.

These efforts have produced fairly promising results — the amount of untreated wastewater in the Seine in 2022 was 90 percent lower than twenty years before. However, there were still 1.9 million cubic meters of untreated wastewater present. Within the last year, the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation Europe took samples of the Seine on 10 days from September to March. Eight of those 10 samples yielded results that showed E. coli levels at least double the allowable levels.

Even though recent results seem to say otherwise, officials are confident that the Seine will be ready by July, barring a few days of heavy rainfall. An extended deluge would flood wastewater systems and dump untreated sewage back into the Seine, ruining the billion-dollar effort. With rising uncertainty of the possibility of racing in the Seine, athletes are pleading for alternative options.

Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha, who took home the gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the women’s 10-kilometer swim, has expressed her concern at a lack of a backup plan.

“We need a plan B in case it’s not possible to swim in the Seine,” Cunha told the Agence France-Presse. “The Seine is not made for swimming.”

Although the controversy has dominated recent Olympic headlines, there is still much to look forward to.

Three sports that made their debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing — will be returning to Paris, while baseball, karate, and softball were not welcomed back.

Breaking, otherwise known as breakdancing, will make its Olympic debut this year. The only sport to be inaugurated in 2024, it was chosen for its combination of creativity and athleticism and its appeal to today’s youth. 

The 2024 Paris Olympic Games will begin July 26 and conclude August 11.

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