As preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympics ramp up, business leaders and risk owners should prepare to mitigate a series of key risks associated with the event.
Theft will remain a threat as criminals adapt to opportunities presented by the Olympics environment
The prevalence of petty theft generally aligns with tourism activity in Paris, and this will continue to be the case during the Olympics. As a result, pickpocketing and scams will remain threats in affluent areas of the city – including around luxury establishments – as well as tourist landmarks and event facilities such as stadiums. This type of crime is generally non-violent, but reports over the past few years have shown increasing aggressiveness against individuals who are perceived to be wealthy, with criminals snatching bags, watches and other luxury goods.
- Organisations should ensure that their employees understand these threats. The key is to remain aware, and to dress inconspicuously.
Terrorism will remain a threat during the Olympics, even though the capabilities of terrorist groups have diminished
Paris last saw mass-casualty terrorist attacks in 2015 when individuals affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) targeted several locations in the capital, including the Stade de France where some Olympics events will take place. IS has since seen its capabilities degraded, and French intelligence services have improved informationsharing practices, meaning that the threat of similarly sophisticated attacks is low, even if the Olympics represent an attractive target for such groups. However, the main terrorism threat profile has since shifted to lone, often self-radicalised individuals, who prefer unsophisticated methods such as bladed weapons or vehicles. They are also more likely to carry out indiscriminate attacks in open spaces and will likely also see events such as the Olympics as attractive targets.
- Organisations should monitor for any changes in the level of terrorism threat, which is currently medium.
As ever in France, there will be potential for protest activity to cause operational disruption
Protest activity will remain likely throughout the event, potentially disrupting inbound travel, as well as movement within Paris. The Olympics are increasingly unpopular in France: 58% of the population supported the Games as of June 2023, down from 76% in September 2021. Critics question the high level of spending on the Olympics as the government seeks to control spending on essential public services such as healthcare. Locals will likely also resent government attempts to prioritise (wealthy) international travellers at the expense of the Parisian population, meaning that local politics could drive a narrative of “us against them” during the events. This sustains a threat of socioeconomic unrest and subsequent operational disruption. Furthermore, headline events will take place in the Stade de France, located in the suburb of Saint-Denis – one of Paris’s least affluent areas, and where socioeconomic unrest is relatively frequent, most recently in June-July 2023 as part of wider riots. Activist groups also have a track record of spectacular actions during sporting events, including parachute drops during football games. Industries with high carbon emissions, such as oil and gas, remain the more likely targets of such protest actions.
- Protests are generally scheduled in advance and along set routes, meaning that monitoring and alternate route planning can mitigate potential disruption.
- The local political climate will remain a key indicator to watch to assess the potential for protests, particularly those motivated by socioeconomic concerns.
Perceived exclusivity of the Olympics could heighten scrutiny on sponsors
Although the government has publicly pressured online hospitality platforms to prevent price gouging, prices remain high. Empty corporate seats are also often scrutinised during sporting events in France, and relevant companies sporadically named. This has forced the organisers of the French Open tennis major (at Roland Garros, another Olympics venue) to devise a system to reallocate empty seats and mitigate the issue, which remains prevalent nonetheless.
- International organisations will need to monitor the local reception of their public presence. Displays of wealth may antagonise the general public in line with locals’ potential resentment of feeling priced out and unable to participate in the Olympics.
Local services, including public transport, will likely struggle to meet the demand
The Olympics will take place across the country and in overseas territories, but headline events will be in Paris, likely stretching local resources. While Paris sees the most tourism activity of any city in the world, this mostly stretches across a long season from May to September, with hotel and airfare pricing regulating the influx. Exceptional events such as the Olympics make visitors less price sensitive, and there are concerns that Paris’s hospitality sector will be at capacity during the events. Already, the government is reportedly considering relocating homeless people away from the capital because of a lack of hotel rooms to temporarily house them. Student housing could also reportedly be repurposed for the event’s staff.
Paris’s public transport system is chronically strained and understaffed. Even without strikes directly affecting these services, they will likely struggle to cope with the influx of visitors, with potential delays. Delays can be particularly uncomfortable during hot weather – public transport often lacks air conditioning. Local hospitals are also generally understaffed, struggling to source nurses and auxiliaries due to the high cost of living in the city.
- International organisations should review their use of transportation and healthcare services and seek alternatives to public services.
- Attendees should review the timeline of their event preparation to avoid logistical challenges, such as missing out on accommodation and transportation services of choice. Second-tier services will have less experience in handling large international events and large business delegations.
Organisers’ attempts to sidestep the Ukraine-Russia conflict will likely not banish geopolitics from the events
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has since the beginning of the conflict in 2022 struggled to reconcile its mission statement of inclusiveness and neutrality with significant pressure to take a stand against Russia. The IOC will likely recommend allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under a neutral banner, but their presence alone will bring controversy. As a result, companies with links to Russia or Belarus will sustain a threat of reputational damage from negative media coverage, as well as protest activity by activist groups.
- International organisations with a presence in Russia or Belarus or trading with these countries should monitor public discourse around the issue and inform their crisis communication teams for contingency planning.