François Hollande’s London 2012 press conference
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Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, to Club France in London (excerpts)
London, 30 July 2012
THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for being patient – as we have been throughout the day, but I don’t think we’ve been disappointed.
I thank the President of the Olympic Committee for welcoming me, and all the organizers. I was particularly proud to be President of the Republic today, to see athletes performing like champions either by winning medals – one gold today, two bronze – or qualifying. (…)
These are moments of joy, at times pain, emotion, but at any rate pride in being president of a country where the athletes are doing the best they can to fly our nation’s flag.
I must also pay tribute to the excellent organization of the Games and to the number of volunteers of all nationalities who for three days now have done their utmost to make these Olympic Games a success. (…) I must also acknowledge the huge effort made by [sports] federation officials. We’re taking part in 24 out of 26 disciplines, which is absolutely outstanding. The Sports Minister made me feel proud again because we’re showing here, with 300 athletes, that we can compete in practically all the Olympic disciplines. (…)
Why have I come? Quite simply because I considered it my job as President. The Prime Minister came for the very successful opening ceremony and I wanted to spend a day experiencing with the French team all the sports events there might be and show my confidence in the sports movement, France’s support for her champions and recognition of their dedication. As I often say, here we don’t talk of money. We talk only of gold. We don’t come to get money, we come to take glory – firstly that of being able to take part in the Games, then being able to try for a medal, whatever its colour. That’s the purpose of my being here, and I must say that I don’t regret it because what’s been shown, demonstrated to me is a determination which can serve as a benchmark. (…)
Q. – Welcome to Britain. Just a brief question on etiquette. Isn’t it rude coming here to my country and bagging more medals than the British?
THE PRESIDENT – The British have rolled out the red carpet for French athletes to enable them to win medals, and I thank them very much for that. But the competition isn’t over and I talked to David Cameron about this. There are high hopes in swimming, in athletics too. So I think we’ll see what the tally is at the end. I’m going to say that it’s Europe’s result that counts, so we’ll put France’s medals in Europe’s pot – that way the British will be happy to be European this year. (…)
Q. – If Paris wins the Games in 2024, how exactly will it go about avoiding the seating problems the London Olympics are unfortunately experiencing?
THE PRESIDENT – We’re not at that stage yet. The empty seat at the moment is Paris. We may make a bid. As I’ve said, the sports movement will decide on it. We’ll wait to find out the choices in 2013, because that will have consequences. We’re not going to lecture others here. I know it’s never easy to organize Games, and because the federations also take seats and don’t always return them, there can ultimately be omissions, and then there are always cancellations. I’ve had the impression the London Games are very well organized, and in the stadiums where I went as a spectator there were no empty spaces. I’m not here to be a killjoy; that wouldn’t be worthy of France.
Q. – What areas should we work on to ensure France organizes the Olympic Games? Should we work more on lobbying? Was that criticized a lot in the previous bid?
THE PRESIDENT – We have experience of failures. Three in recent years: that’s a lot. So we can learn all the lessons from them about how to go about things or not. I think the first lesson is that the sports movement itself must initiate things. Secondly, we’ve just had an authority deciding to host the Games. Finally, we must rally all the players, both public and private, and then we must be inspired. We must also draw on sportspeople themselves, who are the best ambassadors to champion a bid.
I don’t know all the conditions for success, otherwise you’d know about it! And then there’s what you call lobbying: i.e. having “good relations” with those who are going to vote and who, by definition, like Paris, but not enough to entrust it with the Games. There has to be proof that it can be a great success. We have an argument, which is that there have been no summer Games in France since 1924. We’re really getting a little impatient! We’d like to see some Games in France and in Paris during our lifetimes. But as I’ve said, it’ll depend firstly on everyone called upon to make a bid, if we can.
To get back to this year, London is very nearby, and because we have lots of French people living in London and coming to London, having the Games in London is a considerable opportunity that we’ve been able to seize. If London currently has the advantage of hosting the Games, so much the better. We’re getting a few spin-offs from it, and we’ve had very good cooperation – our two governments were just talking about it – to ensure security as well as good transport conditions. So France and the UK cooperated well to ensure London’s success.
Q. – The IOC has refused to allow Guor Marial, a South Sudanese marathon runner, to represent his country in the marathon; he’ll run under the IOC’s colours and will, in a way, be stateless over the 42 kilometres, even though he’s fought hard to represent his country, which is a new country. Without calling this decision into question, I wanted to know if, at least, you regret it?
THE PRESIDENT – It’s always difficult to usurp the role of the relevant organizations. France has recognized South Sudan. For us, a person who lives in South Sudan and has that nationality must be recognized as such. There are rules about international sport that aren’t necessarily the same as those of states. I respect them.
Q. – A question about the 2024 Olympic Games and the possibility of there being a French bid. You’ve mentioned the possibility of there being a French bid, you mentioned Paris twice, but is Paris the only place we could bid for?
THE PRESIDENT – No, you’re right. Here too, let’s not jump the gun. Should one or more French cities present bids, which isn’t the case for the time being? There isn’t only Paris. I don’t want to talk about the bid, precisely because I don’t want to precipitate things myself or define myself as the one who absolutely wants a bid in Paris or elsewhere. It may be this approach that was penalized in the past. We really must separate the roles.
Q. – What exactly would France, Paris or another city have to gain by organizing the Games? We know these Games cost London a great deal: three times more than expected. What would France gain financially or in terms of publicity?
THE PRESIDENT – Organizing the Games really is a considerable boost for the sports movement. First of all we must look at this impact, these consequences. Secondly, three billion television viewers getting to know a city, a country, is a boundless impact in terms of the economic and commercial activity it can generate. Finally, they’re facilities which, if properly reused, can change a city’s urban design. We’ve seen it clearly here in London. Finally, it can mobilize private capital, but all this must be measured, and it’s true there must be some control; when a subsequent cost spirals out of control, it takes a very long time to recoup it. I’m telling you, and I’m going to repeat: I’m not here to announce a bid. I didn’t come here to say, “we’re going to present a bid”, I came to pay tribute to the French athletes, the organization, Club France, too, and therefore to stand before the French as a spectator, committed as I am to the Olympic Games.
Q. – (…) The French team is aiming for 10, 12, 14 medals; you’ve said it could do better than in Beijing. And what did you talk to David Cameron about? Did it include Syria?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes: we didn’t talk about the number of medals. We show consideration, after all, and the competition isn’t over, either. First of all, I paid tribute to the good organization [of the Games] and the contribution made to this by the good relationship between France and the UK.
I also mentioned two other subjects: [firstly] the subject of Europe, and particularly the situation in the Euro Area, although the UK isn’t a member of it but is also affected by a crisis that’s not unrelated to what is happening in the Euro Area. The accumulation of austerity plans, the risks of instability, the markets’ expectations. We – France and the UK – have the same interest: namely, to regain more growth. The indicators for the first half of 2012 aren’t good in the UK, France, Europe. We must create more growth. Moreover, David Cameron agreed with me on this in the European Council at the end of June.
And then we discussed a second subject, namely creating more financial stability. It’s actually in our interests – including those of the British and the City of London – for there to be stability, for the markets not necessarily to be confronted with doubts and uncertainties.
We then talked, indeed, about Syria, because France is going to take over the Security Council presidency on 1 August, and I decided France would convene a Security Council meeting at ministerial level to discuss the situation in Syria. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is going to take initiatives to ensure we can do this very swiftly.
And the French medals? As many of them as it’s possible to win, with no limits! The best way to win them is not to expect any, because then there’s no pressure. Each athlete must think they can win a medal if they excel, if they’re capable of creating momentum for themselves and for the public supporting them. I’m in no way going to set any limits or make any predictions. The finest medal we can win is the one that’ll make us prouder of the French delegation, namely the medal of hope.
As I’ve told you, people haven’t talked to me about several subjects: they haven’t talked to me about taxes, taxation, at any point. At no point have I seen an athlete who’s said to me, “am I going to be affected by the 75% [top rate of income tax]?” At no point. They haven’t talked to me about remuneration, money. That doesn’t mean those issues don’t matter, it doesn’t mean sportspeople’s futures mustn’t be prepared for, and it doesn’t mean there must be no reward, no remuneration. But that wasn’t the mood. The mood was about doing one’s best to serve the country represented, in this case France. In the meetings I had with the athletes, they were very proud, and sometimes some of them didn’t realize the impact of their victories. For example, I don’t think Yannick Agnel appreciated how famous he is. It takes time to get a sense of how famous you are, and when he returns to France I wouldn’t like to be in the same room as him!
Q. – With the arrival of Mario Monti, will there be other subjects?
THE PRESIDENT – I think there will be other subjects.
Mr Monti is conducting a tour of Europe; I think he’s right. He’ll be in Paris tomorrow; I think he’ll be going to Madrid afterwards. What we have to do, precisely in this period when the markets and public opinion want to understand what we’re doing, is repeat that we’re all committed to the defence and the future of the Euro Area.
I have a lot of respect for Mr Monti, because he’s been very brave. He’s been capable of asking the Italians to make an effort, of doing so fairly, and he’s also asking for that effort to be recognized, because if countries adopt austerity measures and also have very high interest rates, how can they then have the confidence of their people, who will necessarily doubt what’s being asked of them? The solidarity we have to create in Europe involves imposing discipline, of course, but then allowing the countries who have made the most difficult choices to be rewarded with interest rates that must be lower. That’s what Mr Monti will tell me, and I’ll give him my support for it.
Q. – On the medals, there’s nonetheless a question of prestige, and competition between countries. How important is it, for France’s image at global level, to win more medals in these Olympic Games?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, of course there’s a quantitative aspect which is undeniable, but there’s also a qualitative aspect about what an event is, how it’s mastered, won, and even how athletes – without winning any medals – can move a country. I’m convinced that Laura Flessel will have created more excitement today than if she’d won a medal, because we really were aware that part of her life was ending there and another was going to begin. It was a career that deserved to be honoured. So Laura Flessel’s tears are worth any number of medals.