When the 2024 Summer Olympics begin in Paris, France, the opening ceremony will take place on the Seine River instead of inside a stadium.
What’s more remarkable though, is that the famed river will play a much larger role in those Olympics. Indeed, several swimming events will take place in the Seine, which bisects Paris.
This won’t be the first time Olympic athletes swim in the Seine. When Paris hosted the first Olympic Games in 1900, all of the swimming events took place in the river. Swimming in the river, however, was banned in 1923 due to pollution.
Olympic athletes won’t be the only people swimming in the river come next year’s Olympics. Thanks to a $1.5 billion clean-up effort that will make the Seine safe for Olympic and Paralympic swimmers, three sites along the river will open for public swimming in 2025.
“It’s been a long-held dream, and it’s well on its way to finally coming true,” the City of Paris explains. “Swimming in the Seine in complete safety will be possible!”
As a matter of fact, today, August 6, Paris will test swimming in the Seine as swimmers compete on the Paris stage of the World Aquatics Marathon Swim World Series. Then, August 17–20, 2023, triathletes and para-triathletes will complete the swimming segments of their races in the Seine.
“When people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they’ll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine,” said Pierre Rabadan, deputy Paris mayor in charge of the Olympics, according to the BBC. “It’s our contribution for the future.”
Cleaning The River
The City of Paris has had plans, and has been working, to restore the Seine for years, but the approaching 2024 Olympics acted “as a lever and a catalyst for investing in sustainable quality water, improving biodiversity, and reducing pollution,” the city explains.
The project is enormous in scope and involves a significant overhaul of existing infrastructure including adding new underground pipes, tanks, and pumps to prevent harmful bacteria from being dumped into the river. For example, one new storage tank near Paris’s Austerlitz train station will hold the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools worth of rain water and then gradually release it into the city’s sewage network rather than allowing it to flow into the river.
“We are not purifying the Seine,” said Samuel Colin-Canivez, the city’s lead engineer in charge of sewage projects, according to the New York Times. “Our approach is to keep untreated water from being dumped into the Seine.”
Paris also now requires approximately 260 boats moored in the Seine to use the city’s sanitation networks rather than emptying sewage and wastewater directly into the river.
Finally, city officials are working with approximately 23,000 homeowners to remove connections that allow their homes to discharge wastewater directly into the Seine or its tributary, the Marne.
Public Swimming In The Seine
Beginning in 2025, Paris will allow swimming in the Seine at three designated sites: Bras Marie, Bras de Grenelle, and Bercy.
“The swimming areas will be marked out by buoys and a pontoon boat to reach them,” the City of Paris explains. “There will also be spaces to change, shower, and store your things.”
City officials have also identified about 20 other potential sites for public swimming in the Seine or Marne.
Despite city officials’ plans, some of Paris’s residents remain apprehensive about swimming in the Seine.
“I will not swim in the Seine: Not now, not in 2 years, or 3,” one woman said, according to CNN. “Look at the color; we don’t know what’s in there.”
Mort Rosenblum, who has owned a houseboat barge on the Seine for at least 40 years, was even more emphatic.
“I wouldn’t swim in that water at gunpoint,” she said, according to CNN.