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Opinion Paris goes for the gold — on prices for the 2024 Olympics

The U.S. women's gymnastics team wins silver at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 27, 2021. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
3 min

Eye-watering ticket prices at recent Summer Olympics have triggered a reliable outcry in the host countries and criticism that most locals can’t afford to attend events. Now, there is fury among French citizens ahead of next summer’s Paris Olympics.

Despite bargain prices of about $27 for 1 million of the roughly 10 million tickets available to the general public — most of which were quickly snatched up — many buyers will need to be rich, lucky or well-connected to attend the Games, the first to be held in Paris in a century. For those who want to reserve a place now for the Opening Ceremonies, a spectacle that will run four miles along the Seine through the heart of the city, tickets will set them back by as much as $2,900. Some of the most sought-after events, including gymnastics, track and field, and swimming, will cost up to and beyond $1,000 a seat.

A French champion gymnast, Marine Boyer, wryly suggested in a social media post that determined buyers do have some options to raise the funds for a ticket — including selling a kidney.

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Organizers of the Games have defended the pricing, pointing out that 40 percent of tickets will cost $55 or less; that hundreds of thousands of spectators will eventually get passes to the Opening Ceremonies; and that nearly two-thirds of seats have already been sold, despite the widespread grousing. The French government has been adamant that it will levy no special tax to finance the Games, and almost two-thirds of the event’s overall cost of almost $10 billion will be borne by sponsors and the International Olympic Committee, with the rest coming from ticket sales and hospitality. Besides, points out Games President Tony Estanguet, a former Olympic-champion canoeist, the athletes “are the greatest champions on the planet, and they have value.”

It is true that the cost of attending the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad, as Paris 2024 is officially known, is aligned with what some fans are willing to pay for a Beyoncé concert, to say nothing of the Super Bowl. For the wildly popular London 2012 Summer Olympics, the top ticket price for the Opening Ceremonies was (a symbolic) 2,012 British pounds — at the time well over $3,000 — though very few people paid that. But it’s also the case that hundreds of thousands of the most affordable seats for the Paris Games are not available to all the general public; they’re set aside for specific groups, including youths under 16, sports volunteers and people with disabilities.

The bigger problem with Paris 2024 pricing policies is they have forced millions of people to buy tickets they don’t want, an act of market manipulation that has rightly enraged many fans. That scheme is particularly galling given promises by organizers, and French President Emmanuel Macron, that the Games would be accessible to the masses.

In the first ticket draw, an online lottery held in February, lucky winners had 48 hours to make their selections — but discovered their purchase had to include at least one ticket for three different sports. Devoted soccer fans could snatch up seats in the big arena without emptying their wallets, but were then often forced to purchase places for sports that held less appeal, at much higher prices.

That scheme satisfied organizers’ goal of filling seats for field hockey, water polo or rugby sevens, for which demand is modest. It also reaped a whirlwind of online fury that should serve as a warning at the next Games: 2028 in Los Angeles and 2032 in Brisbane, Australia.

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Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development); Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and Molly Roberts (technology and society).