How Paris is turning itself into a sporting mecca

CNN  — 

It’s probably best-known for being one of the most scenic and romantic cities in the world, but the “City of Light” is also busy transforming itself into a sporting mecca, starting with this weekend’s Ryder Cup, staged on French soil for the first time, and culminating with the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.

Golf history will be made when Europe take on the US in the 42nd Ryder Cup at the Golf National de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines course just outside of Paris, which is set to become the first in the world to stage both the elite team golf event and the Olympics.

The Golf National, located close to the Palace of Versailles, opened in October 1990. It has two 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course, and is one of a host of existing venues that will help stage the city’s third Summer Games.

Greenkeepers make the final touches to Le Golf National in Paris ahead of the 2018 Ryder Cup.

“Delivering a spectacular Games is our collective goal,” Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, told CNN Sport. “But Paris 2024 has to be a useful project, not just from 2018 to 2024, but also for the next decade, so that it can benefit future generations.”

Although some Olympic cities built as many as 10 new permanent venues, raising concerns about ballooning budgets and waste, Paris 2024 organizers will construct just one brand new sports facility: the Aquatics Centre.

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A state-of-the-art pool facility will be built close to the Stade de France in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, the poorest county in France. The area will also play host to the Athlete’s Village, which will be turned into housing after the Games.

“Fifty percent of children age 11 living in Seine-Saint-Denis do not know how to swim,” said Estanguet, a three-time Olympic canoeing champion. “This is partly why we decided to build a permanent swimming pool in a department, where a very small part of the population had access to this kind of facility.”

Paris will host the Summer Olympic Games in 2024.

Estanguet pointed out 70% of all Olympic venues already exist, including Roland-Garros, which will host the tennis; the Stade de France, built for the 1998 World Cup, where the athletics and opening and closing ceremonies will take place, and the Velodrome for the cycling events.

After years of stalemate over the extension of its cramped site, the city’s winning Olympic bid kickstarted plans to refurbish Roland-Garros, which hosts the French Open tennis event.

The smallest of the four tennis majors, and the only one without a roof, builders started work on the 90-year-old site just a few hours after Rafael Nadal of Spain won a record-extending 11th French Open title in June.

Once completed, Roland-Garros will have a retractable roof over its main center court, a brand new showcourt in the adjacent botanical gardens and a new media centre.

President of the Paris 2024 organizing committee Tony Estanguet told CNN he was planning a spectacular Games.

But it’s not just future Olympic venues that are getting an overhaul. Not far from Roland-Garros, horse racing’s Longchamp racecourse has also undergone a major upgrade.

The track, which has hosted the sport’s richest race on turf, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, for more than 150 years, opened its doors again this year after a three-year, $145 million refurbishment.

The track, in the leafy Bois de Boulogne in western Paris, has replaced its two grandstands, which dated back to the 1960s, with a single a 10,000-seater grandstand.

“It will really be a green bubble for Parisians, just 10 minutes from L’Arc De Triomphe,” Olivier Delloye, who heads governing body France Galop, told CNN Sport last year.

For Olympic organizers, this weekend’s Ryder Cup is an an important test event.

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The competition, the third-most watched sports event in the world after the Olympics and the World Cup with 1.3 billion viewers, is expected to attract more than 270,000 spectators from Tuesday through Sunday.

The Ryder Cup “offers an invaluable opportunity to refine our planning and get a better sense of what challenges are involved in hosting the tournament,” at the Golf National, Estanguet said in a Paris 2024 press release earlier this week.

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“This huge event is also another opportunity to demonstrate France’s ‘savoir-faire’ in staging major international gatherings,” added Estanguet. “And the Ryder Cup will allow us to lay the groundwork, together with the French Golf Federation, for the legacy that Paris 2024 can help to create with the Games.”

Estanguet hopes the events such as the Ryder Cup will help to boost engagement with sport.

“If you look at the recent World Cup it’s been amazing to see how much the French public were able to go into the street and share this fantastic moment, so the challenge for us is to make this happen in all of the sports,” he told CNN Sport at Le Golf National Wednesday.

“The Ryder Cup is an historical moment for France and I’m sure it will impact a lot on the French public. The emotions that this kind of moment can provide has a benefit directly on life.

“Sport can change a life, I’m convinced by this – it changed my life – and the idea is to engage the public more and change more lives of more people.”

Additional reporting by Rob Hodgetts