HomeLearning CenterThe Female Mayor of Paris Has a Lot Riding on the 2024 Paris Olympics

The Female Mayor of Paris Has a Lot Riding on the 2024 Paris Olympics

Originally published by Vivienne Walt for Time Magazine

When Paris kicks off the Olympic Games on July 26, it will be with athletes floating on an armada of boats down the Seine River, rather than marching in a stadium as it has always been. That will be the first of many breaks with Olympic tradition. Keenly aware that previous Games left cities like Rio de Janeiro and Athens deep in debt from white-elephant stadiums and arenas, Paris officials instead are turning adored monuments into competition sites, with equestrian events in the chateau of Versailles, beach volleyball under the Eiffel Tower—and most notable, diving and swimming in a newly cleaned-up Seine River, from which bathing has been banned for a century because of pollution. Seven years after Paris won the Olympics bid, it’s ready to welcome about 15 million spectators.

A key figure behind the vision is Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who, in 2015, drove Paris’ fourth attempt to host the Olympics, clinching the deal on the promise of a sustainable, eco-friendly Games. The Spanish-born Hidalgo, 64 and a decade into her tenure, was determined to use the Olympics to push her environmental agenda, policies that have won plaudits around the world. Despite that, Hidalgo has faced biting criticism among many Parisians, who detect arrogance, and an inability to grasp workaday struggles. Taxi drivers fume at her decision to favor bicycles over cars, while others see Paris as increasingly a haven for the global rich. Hidalgo’s presidential run in 2022, as the left-wing Socialist Party candidate, won a minuscule 1.75% of votes, and last month, about 68% of Parisians said they were dissatisfied with her performance; she regularly polls near the bottom on politicians’ popularity ranks. “I don’t care,” she tells TIME.

To her critics, she points to the fact that she has accomplished what three predecessors—all men—failed to do: she has brought the Olympics to Paris. “A woman was needed,” she says, literally cocking a thumb at her nose. “The feminist that I am is very happy with this.” Sitting in her vast City Hall office on a sunny April afternoon, Hidalgo mused on how the Games can transform her internationally beloved city—as well as her own career.

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