Summer 2024 will be the culmination of years of work: The Olympic Games will take place in 41 French locations. The Games require a high level of planning to ensure their security. To that end, organisers are developing a security plan that leaves nothing to chance.
By Lola BRETON and Amélie RIVES
The clock is ticking. We had years to prepare. Now, it’s only a few months before France hosts the 2024 Olympic Games – a duty that comes with much to achieve in terms of security. A little over 6 months prior to the Games, what is left to do to ensure a safe Olympics next summer? With 15,000 athletes, 11.3 million spectators, and 800 trials in 41 different locations, for 28 days, the Olympic and Paralympic Games will require significant security measures and forces.
A huge flow of men and women rushed toward a recruitment salon in Saint-Denis on September 26. The companies involved in the Olympics’ organisation were hosting a fair to gather resumes and recruit their next employees. In the back of the venue, an entire corner was dedicated to security. With their resumes in hand and their best clothes on, candidates lined up for the chance to be chosen for security jobs. On its banner, the company Gest’n Sport Sécurité advertises that it is looking to recruit 1,000 security guards. Farid Bencherif is the operations manager for this company, which secures – among other missions – the Stade de France. “We have been ready for the Olympics for a while now, especially because securing sport events is exactly what we do, unlike other private security companies who usually work on any kind of events,” Bencherif says. The new recruits – whose only requirement is to have a professional identification card as a security guard – will join the company as soon as possible “to be trained and tested.” The objective is to have a contingent of operational guards able to perform every security mission – including VIP guards, intervention during events, and ticket control – by July 26, 2024.
Ensuring enough people on the ground to secure all competition sites
The recruitment of agents to secure the Olympics – especially in the private security department – has long been a part of the preparation of the Games. For example, during the Champions League Finale in 2022, English supporters became embroiled in street violence at the Stade de France because thousands of them did not have valid tickets. Being surrounded by a professional ID cardholder who could act in any situation while being open to collaborate with other stakeholders is thus key in such events. Bruno Le Ray, head of security on the Comité d’organisation des Jeux Olympiques (COJO), explains, “Before building the security plan, we had started two years ago with a large audit to the private security sector to adjust calls for bids” – a way for the organisers to find the perfect fit for their security needs on and around the competition sites. All in all, 17,000 private agents on average will be needed on the ground every day during the Olympics. “We have signed contracts with 37 private security companies so far,” Bruno Le Ray says. “We speak monthly with each of them to see how their recruitment process is going.”
Having enough personnel and security forces on the ground is a matter that preoccupies every force in the Games organisation. The governing bodies – DIJOP, IOC, and a national instance to coordinate the security of the Games (CNSJ) – have collaborated to determine a set of measures and ensure that every contingent knows its role and has capacity to work. Even between the traditional police forces, some adjustments had to be made. Most of the Olympic sites are located in police zones; only a few, in rural areas, fall under the Gendarmerie’s prerogative. Yet these forces have been asked to be available for any security measures related to the Games. “We will have to face Olympic tourism,” General Laurent Phélip, in charge of large events and the 2024 Olympics, predicts. “Visitors will take up the opportunity to travel around, and we fear an influx of people on other sites.Usually, we can count on the support of mobile « gendarmerie » platoons in tourist hotspots. Of course, next year, they will mainly be employed in the Ile-de-France region.” With this in mind, “there’s a real capacity challenge,” the General points out. “It will imply an effort from all personnel. All of them will be involved, regardless of their grade, status and area of expertise.” General Laurent Phélip clarifies, “There is another challenge that tends to be underestimated: logistics. With an event of this magnitude, generating, projecting and supporting a structured and equipped gendarmerie force of unprecedented size is a real military maneuver.” For the DGSCGC, in charge of public safety, a personnel matter is also at stake. “We need to make sure that we will have enough first-aiders to cover every single event during the Games, with appropriate emergency processes,” Julien Marion, director of public safety, says. This means ensuring ahead of time that areas outside of Paris have enough men and women to act on any crisis.
Conducting tests for the long run
A few months from the event, the global security plan for the Olympics is not yet stabilised and will evolve according to the situation on the ground. However, a workshop reuniting decision makers has been launched to work on an outline for the protection of sites, the organisation of command, and the operational response. Security in transportation systems is one of the key points being discussed. Given the most recent data published by the minister – which indicates that 124 people have suffered from theft or a physical assault in public transportation last year – ensuring that this area is secure enough to welcome millions of visitors a day during the summer 2024 is important. In a September 2023 job fair, the operator for the Parisian subway, RATP, was present to recruit some security agents. “We are looking for people who will want to stay with us on the long run, who have their driving license, valid ID and never had any problems with the police and the justice system,” the recruiter says. Those who will be recruited will be sworn in by the transportation police, and they will obtain the right to carry a weapon – hence the vigilance in the recruiting process.
Summer 2024 will not be the first time such a massive set of measures and organisation of security acts on the French ground have occurred. To prepare for the Olympics, the stakeholders have organised test events: “19 tests have been conducted so far,” Bruno Le Ray reveals. “Not all of them were done in situations where sports competitions were happening, but three did. These tests are not comparable to the Olympics themselves because of the lack of audience, for example, but they helped in terms of logistics. We tested how to transition from one sport to another on a same site, for example, which is very important.” This seems to be an effective way to build an even stronger coordination between the state and the organizers. Additional tests will be conducted throughout 2024.
Those tests and the years that passed since France was chosen to host the Olympics also enabled the DGSCGC and its director, Julien Marion, to update the emergency and crisis management plans in each region. During the last Rugby World Cup, the public safety direction also tested new cooperation processes with European partners. “A European back-up of search-and-rescues dogs and mine-clearing experts came to help,” Marion reveals: a sports event in which safety forces were equipped with a new detection tool for radioactive substances. The “Accurad” machine has been financed by the EU. “These tools will be built and stocked in France before the Olympics start, which ensures our country to better its capacity to face a radioactive attack,” Marion says.
“The Rugby World Cup was both a difficulty and a strength,” General Laurent Phélip explains. On one hand, we had to prepare for it while we were also preparing for the Olympics. On the other hand, it was a good way to test and experiment the structures and processes that will be implemented during the Olympics. After the Rugby World Cup, we will have identified our strengths and weaknesses and will be able to adjust what needs adapting for next year« .
For the organisers of the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup – although incomparable with what will happen in July 2024 – is also a source of lessons. “We have seen how the stadiums we will use in Marseille, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne handled the flow of visitors and the competition, for example,” Bruno Le Ray notes.
State forces are ready to tackle threats
France reactivated the strongest level of alert for terrorism in October 2023, following the attack on Israel by Hamas and the killing of a professor in a high school in Arras (France). Even before that, this threat was being taken very seriously by the organisation. “As for our capacity to react, our specialized intervention forces proposed a mutually-agreed plan to allocate missions and sites to protect that was approved by the Minister. With this unprecedented and perfectly consistent disposition, we will be able to make a powerful response to a major attack,” General Laurent Phélip believes.
To face the different threats and ensure a global security plan for the Games, the stakeholders can also rely on technology. “We already reinforced our counter-UAV systems capabilities by acquiring scramblers, and we are able to integrate into a heavier system set up by the Army or to protect a number of sites independently,” General Laurent Phélip says. “With the Gendarmerie Cyberspace Command, we contribute to the protection against cyberthreats, another key point to watch during the Olympics.” In addition, if this is not enough to ensure secure Olympic Games, France will still be able to rely on help from its European partners, for instance through the Prüm Treaty, which has enabled police cooperation between seven Member States of the EU since 2005.