Just days before President Trump arrives in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day with Emmanuel Macron, the French president headed to Switzerland to explain why the United States should come second — and France should come first.
First, that is, in terms of which country should host the 2024 Olympic Games.
Macron attended a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne this week, where it was announced that the host cities of both the 2024 and 2028 games would be revealed at the same time later this year.
Such a break from tradition means that both Paris and Los Angeles, the two remaining contenders to host the 2024 games, could be awarded Olympic Games at the same time. The move comes after four other cities dropped bids to host, prompting the IOC to start reforming the process for applicant cities.
In theory at least, the new system might seem fairer: two countries would become “winners,” both awarded games but in different years. The mayors of Los Angeles and Paris have suggested they could cooperate to make sure the bid process worked out for everyone. “We look forward to working together maybe not in competition but collaboration with Paris,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday.
But the reformed process would also mean something else — one country would literally be first and the other country second. And Macron has thrown his weight behind making France the former.
The French president's choice to attend the event in Lausanne was unusual. Generally, heads of state only attend the host city vote, which this year will take place in September in Lima, Peru. President Trump was not present in Lausanne this week, though he did offer his support in a message on Twitter: “Working hard to get the Olympics for the United States (L.A.). Stay tuned!”
Though Macron's meetings with the IOC were behind closed doors, he offered a political explanation for why Paris should host the games in comments to reporters in Lausanne. “We need multilateralism, the structures that provide agreement among nations … and tolerance, which the Olympic movement illustrates well,” Macron said Monday.
The next day, he took the point further. “Olympic values are our values,” said Macron. “They are threatened, called into question by many today, so it's the best moment to defend them.”
Such comments echoed statements made by Macron at last weekend's Group of 20 meeting that many interpreted as a reference to Trump. “I will not concede anything in the direction of those who are pushing against multilateralism,” Macron said last Saturday after referring to “real divisions and uncertainties” in the West.
France's youngest president since Napoleon, the former investment banker came into power earlier this year despite never having held elected office. The 39-year-old now commands a powerful majority in France's parliament and may be able to push through many of the ideas in his self-proclaimed “radical centrist” manifesto.
While Macron invited Trump for a state visit on one of France's most important national holidays — a visit scheduled to include a luxurious dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant on the Eiffel Tower and a military parade — the pair have often been at loggerheads when it comes to policy. After the United States announced its intention to leave the Paris climate agreements, Macron released a video calling the move a “mistake” before concluding with the phrase: “Make our planet great again.”
During their first meeting in Brussels, the pair also shared a white-knuckle handshake which was widely analyzed. Macron himself later admitted it was a deliberate act, telling French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that “it wasn’t innocent” and that “one must show that you won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones.”
Though the economic benefits for Olympic host cities is widely contested, winning the nomination can be an important symbolic victory for world leaders like Macron and Trump.
And for the American leader, a Paris Olympic Games might rub extra salt in the wounds as he has criticized the city a number of times — in February, Trump spoke of the horrors in the French capital, suggesting ominously that a visiting friend had told him “Paris is no longer Paris.”
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