Paris Olympics: Will people really be able to swim in the River Seine after the Games?

Paris authorities have big plans for the River Seine - holding Olympic and Paralympic swimming events in the river and then creating swimming sports for the general public. But how realistic are these plans?

Paris Olympics: Will people really be able to swim in the River Seine after the Games?
In 1946, people dive into the Seine river near the Pont d'Iéna, during a heat wave at the beginning of the summer. (Photo by AFP)

Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, when public officials closed the waters off to would-be swimmers due to high pollution levels.

In the years since, the Seine, while known for its beauty as it traverses the city of Paris, is also reputed for being trash-ridden and dirty. 

READ MORE: Paris 2024 Olympics: How can I get tickets?

Despite this, organisers for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics hope to host several swimming events, including the triathlon and 10k swimming marathon, in the city-centre portion of the river.

The Seine will also play a crucial role for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, which will be held along a 6km course on the river through the heart of Paris.

People have attempted to push for a Seine clean-up in the past – former French President Jacques Chirac said in 1990 that he hoped to clean up the water enough so that he would be able to swim in it within three years.

This didn’t happen. 

However, the president of SIAAP (the Interdepartmental Syndicate for the Sanitation of the Parisian Agglomeration), François-Marie Didier, told BFMTV that in the 1990s, there were only three species of fish in the Seine and Marne rivers, while now, “there are 34 species of fish in the Seine and 37 in the Marne”, signalling progress that has been made in the last three decades to make the water less polluted.

The clean-up project

Despite the fact that the Seine’s quality has improved over the years, many Parisians still associate the waterway with bad smells, litter and dumped electronic scooters. 

According to a Slate report in 2021, nearly 360 tonnes of waste are collected from the water each year, which understandably does not make it very appealing for swimming.

The other issue is pollution from sewage. According to Vivienne Walt, who has covered the clean-up plan for Time magazine, “last year, 1.9 million cubic metres of untreated wastewater was spewed into the Seine”.

Walt spoke to city hall officials, who told her that dumping the wastewater was necessary “to avoid saturating Paris’ sewage network and flooding the city when especially heavy rain hits”. 

In order to solve this issue, a “water quality and swimming programme” was first launched in 2016, funded by €1.4 billion from the City of Paris and other local authorities.

To address the issue of heavy rains pushing untreated waste water into the river, a large rainwater storage tank near the Austerlitz train station was constructed. 

Public swimming

Map: Ville de Paris

In 2021, Paris mayor Anne Hidlago’s son Arthur Germain, an endurance swimmer, swam the entire length of the Seine, from its source near Dijon out to the sea at Le Havre, as part of an environmental project.

After the Olympics –  if the waters pass safety standards for swimming – the next stage is public swimming which is scheduled from 2025.

The plan is to create 23 bathing sites along the Seine, with 5 in Paris itself and the rest in the suburbs and greater Paris area.

Two of the Paris sites will be located along the left bank of the Seine (in the 5th and 6th arrondissements), one at the edge of the Île Saint-Louis (4th), one at the port of Bercy (12th), and one in the Bois de Boulogne (16th).

These will be enclosed pool-type structures put into the river to create swimming spaces – similar to the temporary pool that is erected each year on the Canal Ourcq at Bassin de le Villette each summer.

At this stage it is not clear whether the Seine pools will be permanent or only for the summer, or what the rules will be on swimming in the river outside of the designated pool spaces. 

But will it happen?

According to Paris regional authorities, the stated goal within the “water quality and swimming programme” is to decrease three quarters of the pollution in the river by summer 2024. 

“If we reach this objective of reducing pollution by 75 percent, then it should be possible to swim in the Seine”, the préfecture of Île-de-France told BFMTV.

During the summer of 2022, daily samples of river water were collected, and “they were found to be either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘excellent’ 7 days out of 10. And that’s before all the work underway”, Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Seine, told BFMTV.

The head of the Olympic Organising Committee, Tony Estanguet, echoed these comments, telling the French news channel that the “test results from the summer of 2022 were very, very, very encouraging (…) the tests from this summer have shown that we are already at levels that allow swimming”.

Despite these encouraging results, the deputy mayor did say that hazards, such as large storms, could make it so that the river needs to be closed for a few days to be at safe pollution-levels again.

And that’s exactly what happened when test swimming events were held in the summer of 2023 – although some triathlon events were able to take place, others were cancelled because heavy rain resulted in too much polluted water being flushed into the Seine. 

“In this situation, organisers would have a two to three day margin to shift events around”, Rabadan explained, referencing the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Researcher in microbiology at the University of Paris-Est Créteil, Françoise Lucas, told BFMTV that, for this reason, “we must hope that it does not rain at all in the three days ahead of the Olympics”.

Olympic organisers early in 2024 said that they are confident that swimming events will take place in the Seine and that there is “no plan B”.

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Eiffel Tower to hike ticket prices by 20 percent from June

Paris city hall on Friday voted to increase the Eiffel Tower adult admission price by 20 percent from next month to help pay for urgent renovation work.

Eiffel Tower to hike ticket prices by 20 percent from June

Visitors currently pay €29.40 ($31.90) for a ride by lift to the top of the Eiffel tower, a price tag that is set to rise to 35.30 euros on June 17.

The Paris city council also backed a recapitalisation for Eiffel Tower operator SETE, and lowered the annual fee it charges the operator for running one of the world’s most famous monuments.

Lower visitor numbers during the Covid pandemic combined with spiralling renovation costs have pushed SETE deep into deficit.

Staff at the Eiffel Tower went on strike earlier this year, protesting against what unions said was insufficient investment.

The Eiffel Tower booked a shortfall of around 120 million euros during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

Unions argued that previous recapitalisation of 60 million euros was insufficient given the need for major maintenance work, including a fresh paint job.

The masterpiece by architect Gustave Eiffel has been repainted 19 times since it was built for the 1889 World Fair.

Eiffel recommended at the time that it should be painted every seven years to keep inevitable rust at bay.

But the 300-metre (985-feet) iron structure — 330 metres tall when the high-frequency antenna at the top is included — has not been given a full paint job since 2010.

Visitor numbers recovered to nearly six million last year, having dropped to 1.5 million in 2020 because of Covid restrictions.