When, just over four years ago, the French state inspired the COJO with the idea of organizing the surfing event of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games abroad – a smart political choice and sporting option that was more reasonable than on mainland France this time of year – no one could have imagined that the handful of natives at the end of the Tahiti peninsula, located 15,000 km from the epicenter of Paris, would put up so much resistance to the power of the Games, which they never saw to begin with really wanted and which they always saw coming with worried eyes.
Why is the judge tower now at the center of the debate?
Initially, the Tahitians did not believe in this Olympic offer. While the application was submitted expressly and just before the deadline, the residents of Teahupoo, faced with a glaring lack of communication from the Polynesian authorities meant to reassure them, have long fantasized the worst about the giant CIO. They imagined that their piece of paradise would soon turn into a tacky seaside resort with hotels on every corner. Please note that there are only guest houses in Teahupoo. And again, not much.
This stressful hesitation lasted more than three years, between galloping rumors, a bit of information and recurring denials. For a long time, until a few weeks ago, the subject of the right tower was not on today’s agenda. A first wave of protest was heard last spring. Work has started on the marina (the small fishing port) and at the end of the road, pilings to replace the legendary – but no longer up to standard – pedestrian bridge spanning the Fauoro River. Heavy downpours have buried Teahupoo under water and many have (awkwardly according to experts) made the connection between the flooding and the footbridge work…
The Teahupoo Wave. (F. Seguin/L’Équipe)
In the meantime, the new jury tower was being built in a workshop not far away. Without sound. But at the beginning of the school year in September, as its installation in the lagoon approached, the topic surfaced, with immediate outright disapproval, linked to its ecological impact and, to a lesser extent, its costs. In early October, a much-publicized demonstration in the form of a peace march was organized in the village to protest against this new tower, which has continued to fuel this soap opera ever since.
Why is the new tower a problem?
While Paris 2024 “ of environmental responsibility an important pillar of his candidacy and organization » the residents of Teahupoo are very upset about the alleged impact of this tower which they say is harmful to the biodiversity of the seabed. Some even argue that the destruction of some of the coral could affect the proper formation of the wave.
This new tower is made of aluminum and offers more space for judges to work and can accommodate more people, with better security. It also has a fully air-conditioned room for the computer servers, as well as electricity, running water for the toilets and a fiber optic internet connection.
If the wave breaks offshore, this tower has the major disadvantage that it has to be installed in the lagoon, which requires breaking down pieces of reef and running large cables under the lagoon (for toilet drainage and fiber optic) over a distance of 750 meters … Not to mention that this new tower has a price considered exorbitant by the locals: 4.4 million euros. Which ultimately sparked the debate.
Why does the old tower seem inadequate?
For twenty years, the World Surf League installs every year the time of its event on the calendar of the professional circuit (and dismantles it once completed) ITS tower, located in the lagoon a few tens of meters overlooking the wave. It is made of wood and gives the judges a good view of the show and the streaming rebroadcast for the live webcast. However, it does not meet the IOC’s demanding specifications. The country has not met safety standards since 2008, and it is the President of Polynesia who confirms it. Moreover, it could not accommodate as many people as Paris 2024 wishes (judges and civil servants), and that is not the case. have an air-conditioned room for servers…
The wooden tower of the World Surf League. (D. Michel/L’Equipe)
To make it compliant, it would be necessary to strengthen the wooden structures, allow fewer people inside, separate an area for the servers and air-condition it. This old tower, even if it were finally approved at the cost of significant sacrifices, would not solve the problem of cables running under the lagoon. Because if the toilet drain can be bypassed (the wastewater is usually discharged into the lagoon), fiber optics are essential for television broadcasts…
And now ?
Faced with the uprising of the local population, a few days ago the COJO first postponed the installation of the new tower and began to intensively reflect on the old one to see if any changes could actually be made to it. On paper this does not seem to be a foregone conclusion, otherwise the new tower would not have been specifically built. Unless the IOC and Paris 2024 are inclined to make major compromises. Will we ever know? A decision is expected at the end of November.
In any case, and despite the insistence of territory president Moetai Brotherson, a fallback location – Taharuu in Papara has been named – has been ruled out for the COJO, which logically remains anchored at Teahupoo. And in the meantime, Tony Estanguet, who first visited the site in August 2022, plans to return to Teahupoo very soon, as does the Minister of Sports Amélie Oudéa-Castera, who was there last August.