A royal site eyed for equestrian sports at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games
A beach volleyball court on the Champ de Mars beside the Eiffel Tower, archery on the Esplanade des Invalides, cycling on the Champs-Élysées, fencing and taekwondo at the Grand Palais. As part of its master plan for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Paris envisions using its famous landmarks as stunning backdrops for the international competition. And equestrian sports are no exception.
This week, the French minister of sports visited the historic Château de Versailles palace and grounds about 20 km southwest of the centre of the French capital. The UNESCO World Heritage site is expected to be the venue for Show Jumping, Eventing and Dressage at the two global sports gatherings in seven years, following the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Organizers are excited about the potential of Versailles — which was was made the seat of French power in 1682 when King Louis XIV moved the royal court here from Paris — to meet two of the Games’ core goals of being green and highlighting France’s cultural heritage. The enormous palace, which has more than 700 rooms, is certainly a jewel of that national heritage stock, and course planners envisage working with the hundreds of hectares of grounds designed by André Le Nôtre and others in an ecologically sensitive manner.
To that end, a temporary stadium accommodating 20,000 spectators would be constructed at Versailles, possibly in a large circular space at the far end of the Grand Canal opposite the palace. In addition, Olympic officials believe up to 80,000 people could watch Cross-Country in Versailles’ park during the Eventing competition, with obstacles subsequently removed after the event.
Indeed, elsewhere in the Paris region on this question of ecology and heritage, environmental and heritage activists have been in a long-running dispute with municipal officials over the renovation and enlargement of Roland-Garros (including its neighbouring historic greenhouses), site of the French Open — and an imporant part of the the Olympic committee’s plan, according to Tony Estanguet, French canoeing champion and co-president of the Paris 2024 bid campaign.
In any case, despite being in a suburban area of the Île-de-France region (in contrast with the rest of the relatively compact group of venues envisioned across Paris), Versailles is quite accessible, with three train stations: Versailles-Chantiers, Versailles-Château-Rive-Gauche, and Versailles-Rive-Droite. It can also be reached by highways, and there are small aerodromes in the vicinity (Versailles, Saint-Cyr-l’École).