Analysis - The ongoing saga surrounding the host site for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games surfing competition on world-renowned Teahupoo beach (Tahiti Island) seems to have found a sense of closure at the weekend when French Polynesia's President Moetai Brotherson assured the location would be maintained, despite concerns raised by local and international opponents.
At the centre of the controversy was the new 5-million-dollar aluminium judges' tower which the Paris Olympic Games organising committee, for safety standards, deemed necessary to build in order to replace the older wooden tower.
Following local demonstrations and an online petition, Brotherson and the Olympics organising committee announced mid-November new plans for a "lighter" tower with shallower foundations that would require a lighter barge for drilling.
In another setback early December, a test run prior to building the "light" version of the aluminium tower caused the destruction of significant amounts of coral. The barge that was supposed to drill holes for the new tower's foundation ended up stranded on the reef after scratching and damaging the coral floor.
This at the time prompted Brotherson to cast doubts on maintaining Teahupoo as the host site for next year's Olympics surf competition, but also on the yearly World Surfers League (WSL) Tahiti leg of its global Pro competition.
French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra had last week suggested that this test run had not been well-enough prepared, adding there was "no Plan B" for an alternate host site, whether in French Polynesia or elsewhere.
Late last week, Paris 2024 Olympics Organising Committee chairman Tony Estanguet told French media he "deeply regretted" the damage to the coral reef, but promised that from now on, "new implantation techniques" would be used to drill the necessary holes for the new tower's foundations in the reef to avoid damaging the marine site's biodiversity.
New "solution" backed by most
After a five-hour meeting with local residents and stakeholders at the weekend, Brotherson announced a "solution" had been identified which would now allow construction works (that had been suspended after the latest incident) to resume so that the new tower can be ready sometime mid-May 2024, just in time for the WSL event to be held on Teahupoo.
The WSL event could also serve as a real-life test a few weeks ahead of the Olympics in July 2024, Brotherson added.
He told Tahiti Nui Television his new schedule for Teahupoo now has the backing of "local politicians, the local surf federation and associations, except one, and one surfer who thinks he can speak for the whole surfers' community".
Insurance, economics also strong factors
The Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee had ruled the wooden tower previously used on Teahupoo for the WSL competition did not meet safety standards.
"Contrary to the accepted practice over the past 24 years, it is increasingly difficult for the WSL to find an insurance company that accepts to cover the even with the old tower and they were threatening to cancel the Tahiti leg and withdraw Tahiti from its world tour if the new (aluminium) tower was not ready in time for this year's competition", French High Commissioner in French Polynesia Eric Spitz told public television Polynésie la 1ère
"For our municipality, this new tower was necessary, a tower that is up to safety standards so there is no problem regarding the staff and personnel that will come and work here (...) We're already behind on schedule so works have to resume", Tetuanui Hamblin, mayor of West Taiarapu (where Teahupoo is administratively located) said.
Hamblin said last week many residents and businesses have been preparing for months and have invested significant amounts of money in renovation, accommodation works to host the Olympics and its expected influx of visitors.
"Some of (the residents) came to me recently to say they were ready to rise up and confront this opposing association (…) So I think this association should not go too far (…) They have to stop now", he warned.