The city of Paris, France, is allowing residents to swim in the river Seine again for the first time in a century this weekend.
France’s capital has been making efforts to clean the waters since 2018 as part of the city’s objective to revive the river’s ecosystem and ensure that it is safe for use in the 2024 Summer Olympic Games and other swimming events.
The Seine was used for swimming competitions during the last Olympics hosted by Paris more than 100 years ago, in 1900, and for recreation until swimming was banned in 1926 due to pollution concerns.
The Olympic Torch was unveiled on the banks of the Seine on July 25, marking one year before the opening of the games.
The World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup 2023 is taking place this weekend in the river, but one race was postponed due to rainfall causing Seine water quality to fall “below acceptable standards for swimmers’ health,” the French Swimming Federation said in a news release.
The women’s race, initially planned for Saturday, Aug. 5, has been pushed to Sunday, Aug. 6.
A planned training session for Olympic swimmers was cancelled Friday also due to the rainfall.
The city of Paris’ website says bathing in the Seine was an old Parisian tradition, and re-opening the river for swimming is a “kind of return to the past.”
Swimming in the Seine will be available to the public in 2025 at three locations: Bras Marie, Bras Grenelle and Bercy, at the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge.
The analysis of the Seine’s water at the beginning of June gave “excellent results” in complying with European regulations. Sites where Olympic swimming events will be held met testing standards at 91 per cent in the summer of 2022.
The Seine cleanup is costing 1.4 billion euros, according to the city website.
“Beyond simple bathing, the objective has become more ambitious at the time of global warming: to transform the Seine into a real ecological corridor,” the website writes.
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The Olympic opening ceremony is typically held in the host city’s Olympic stadium, but Paris will be switching it up by having it take place on the Seine River.
A notable change is that the hundreds of thousands of spectators who will watch the open-air gala for free, spread along a six-kilometre parade route on the River Seine, will still need to pre-register for tickets.
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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, in charge of Olympic security, had been pushing for that shift so throngs of non-paying spectators can be allocated designated spots on the river’s upper embankments, separated from 100,000 other guests paying for a closer, waterside view.
In the face of experts’ misgivings about the size and complexity of the security operation, organizing committee president Tony Estanguet and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke at a news conference in defence of France’s decision to use the centre of the city as the venue for the extravaganza, ditching the safety of a traditional stadium setting for the first time.
“When France organizes the Games — the last time was 100 years ago — it does so with ambition,” Estanguet said.
— with files from The Associated Press.
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