Paris is set to make history once again as it prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games, with a groundbreaking plan to reintroduce swimming in the River Seine. The iconic river will take center stage during the games, with swimming competitions set to be held in its once-forbidden waters, marking the first time in a century that such events will grace its currents.
In the city’s inaugural Olympic Games in 1900, swimming competitions were indeed held in the Seine, and for centuries, Parisians used the river for bathing and recreation. However, due to increasing pollution, the practice was banned in 1923. Now, thanks to a determined cleanup effort initiated in 2018, affectionately known as the “Swimming Plan,” Parisians can look forward to embracing their historic connection with the Seine once more.
The Seine will play a prominent role in the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympics, with the event taking place on the river, witnessed by an estimated 600,000 spectators lining its banks. Following the ceremony, various races will be held on the river, signifying a revival of aquatic activities that will leave a lasting legacy after the games have concluded.
The ambitious 1.4 billion-euro ($1.55-billion) initiative to clean up the Seine has been in progress for several years, but the imminent arrival of the Olympics has provided added impetus. Critical components of the plan include the implementation of two disinfection units at wastewater treatment plants, as well as the construction of structures like a rainwater storage basin to manage pollution during rainfall.
To prioritize water quality improvement, efforts have been focused on reducing bacterial pollution from wastewater entering the Seine. Boat owners along the river have been required to connect to Paris’ wastewater network, preventing direct discharges into the water. Furthermore, rectifying faulty plumbing across the city has been instrumental in curbing wastewater leaks into storm drains.
These concerted efforts have already yielded impressive results, with water quality tests showing compliance with European regulations and meeting standards for Olympic events 91% of the time during a specific period in 2022.
After the Olympics, the Seine will open to the public, offering three designated bathing sites: Bras Marie, Bras de Grenelle, and Bercy. These areas will be clearly marked with buoys and pontoons for easy access, complete with changing and shower facilities on the quays. Additional potential swimming sites are also being identified in the wider Paris region.
Despite the excitement surrounding this historic endeavor, some locals remain cautious about entering the water. Concerns about water quality and stormy weather affecting swimming conditions persist. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, however, views the Seine’s cleanup as part of a broader vision for the city’s future, including adapting to climate change and preserving biodiversity.
The restoration of swimming in the River Seine not only rekindles a tradition lost to pollution but also symbolizes Paris’ resilience in embracing the challenges of the future while preserving its treasured past. As the 2024 Olympics approach, the world will witness Paris once again making history as the iconic Seine becomes a symbol of transformation and rejuvenation.