On the spot

 Eric Fournier

Mayor of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

The City of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc has just officially launched the celebrations of the centenary of the 1924 Olympic Games. How did the city conceive of these celebrations and what does it expect from them?

The City of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc developed these celebrations with the ambition of sharing its Olympic history and its legacy with as many people as possible. The expectations around this anniversary are multiple. For the inhabitants of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, we wish to recognise this remarkable period as a high point in our common history in order to strengthen a feeling of belonging and pride. We want both locals and tourists to know more about our history, our legacy and our values. We want them to return home enriched by the Chamonix Olympic spirit which will remain imprinted in their minds. Finally, this anniversary allows us to affirm Chamonix-Mont-Blanc as a city at the heart of the challenges of the 21st century. We are highlighting our openness to the world and our actions, on the front line, in the face of global warming. The anniversary is an opportunity to discuss these issues, particularly with young people in our schools.

What are the axes developed by Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to make the link between 1924 and today? Which enhancements and activations of the Olympic legacy, both tangible and intangible, will be put in place during this 2023/2024 period?

Two axes structure our work to make the link between 1924 and 2024: one is patrimonial, the other is event-based. The “legacy” aspect consists of renovating and/or enhancing the constructed heritage inherited from the 1st Winter Olympic Games of Chamonix 1924. Three Olympic sites have been identified by the IOC: the ski jumping hill at Mont aux Bossons, the bobsleigh run at Les Pèlerins and the Olympic Park (skating rink and the starting lines of the cross-country and military ski runs) located in the city centre. We are highlighting these major sport venues by putting up educational panels and creating a path along the bobsleigh track.
We are also committed to promoting our four Olympic medal winners as well as the Olympians from Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Since 1924, at least one Chamonix native has represented France at each Winter Olympics! Today, we have more than one hundred and thirty Olympians and many of them are active in our region. We are very proud of this wealth of talent, and we want to perpetuate it.
In addition, the celebrations will take the form of a substantial program of events during the anniversary period, in 2023 and 2024. Sporting events, official and public ceremonies, cultural exhibitions, the publication of a reference book, and interactions with schools are planned. Naturally, we are relying on existing events, but we are also producing new, tailor-made highlights for the occasion. Moreover, we are taking advantage of the Paris 2024 operations to synergize our actions.
We draw inspiration from our past to project ourselves into the future with the same energy and determination deployed by the pioneers of the 1st Olympic Games in 1924.

For Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, the preservation of the environment and the mountain ecosystem is a fundamental element of its policy. How is this integrated into the celebrations on the one hand and its general tourism policy on the other?

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is truly a small town in the mountains. With an altitude between 1000 and 4810m, 91% of its total land is in a protected area. Our territory is in the front line of global warming which is accelerating year by year. We see it every day in the surrounding mountains. With our Italian and Swiss neighbours in the Espace Mont-Blanc, we have been thinking about how to adapt for years. For example, this is reflected in our tourism policy in that we no longer solicit long-distance travellers. Our priority is local customers, while at the same time promoting long stays for a better understanding of our region.
Another example is the free use of public bus and train transportation in the valley for a certain number of users. This way, visitors can move around the valley in a low-carbon way without spending a single euro on transportation.For all of its actions in favour of the environment, the city has been designated with the Flocon Vert label since 2013 by the “Mountain Riders” NGO, proof of the efforts made.
With regards to the celebrations of the centenary of the 1st Winter Olympic Games, we are taking into account the preservation of the environment by strongly encouraging the major sporting events taking place in our region to deploy ambitious and responsible “Sustainable Development” policies. We take advantage of our involvement in the city’s schools to make our youth aware of the importance of respecting the environment. Olympism and the Winter Games are great opportunities to open the discussion on a large number of current topics: the environment and climate change is a major one!
Another important initiative is the one set up in partnership with the French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs which organizes, with our help, the “Grand Parcours Alpinisme Chamonix”. This event takes place over four days and offers a discovery of mountaineering for the general public and for schoolchildren in the Haute-Savoie department. Last year, we linked these school days in the high mountains to the Olympic Day on June 23rd. The dates coincided and the motto “Move, Discover, Learn” seemed to us to fit perfectly with the theme of this day. Especially since during the closing ceremony of the Games in 1924, Pierre de Coubertin awarded the 1st Olympic Prize for Mountaineering. These days contribute to a better knowledge of this sensitive environment and certainly foster a deeper respect for these spaces. We are thinking of renewing this program in the years to come.

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc has been awarded the “Terre de Jeux 2024” label. How does this initiative, which goes beyond the celebrations, fit into the dynamic of activating the legacy and development of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc?

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc has been an Olympic City since 1924. It is the birthplace of the Winter Olympic Games and celebrates its centenary in 2024. Terre de Jeux 2024 is the label developed by Paris 2024 to disseminate and promote the Games and create a legacy in the heart of French territories. In Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, we have decided to combine these two opportunities to make the most of them. Thus, in our communications and activities, we are working on a balance between promoting the anniversary of Chamonix 1924 and Terre de Jeux, and consequently Paris 2024. We are committed to promoting our local specificity while at the same time being part of the wider movements of Paris 2024 and Olympism. Generally speaking, the future development of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc will require taking into account this Olympic legacy. Beyond that, it must also deal with a multitude of parameters and complex issues on non-sporting themes, as the major Olympic cities around the world are capable of doing today.

What kind of coordination or synergies have you put in place with Paris for the celebrations, which is hosting the 2024 Games and also celebrating the centenary of Paris 1924?

With the City of Paris, we were able to collaborate during the winter of 2022 on winter sports promotion days at the Accord Arena. We made photos of Chamonix 1924 available to the organisation in order to publicise these Games and to reinforce the common history between Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and Paris, linked by the 8th Olympiad in 1924. Recently, we had the great pleasure of welcoming Mr. Pierre Rabadan, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, at the launch of the centennial celebrations and the Paris 2024 Flag Tour. Mr. Rabadan evoked the rapprochement of our two cities in 1924 for the success of the Games and the promotion of sport. Today, this link inspires us to work together in the months to come.

What kind of experiences in the preparation for these celebrations does Chamonix-Mont-Blanc wish to share with the Members of the Union, both in terms of inspiring initiatives and challenges, etc.?

At the beginning, the organisation of the centenary was slowed down by the Covid 19 pandemic. With the issues of this period, it was far from a festive time. However, it is important to remember our roots and what makes our territory strong so that, once the crisis is over, we can get together and rediscover the “living together” that characterises our societies. Thus, keeping this anniversary in focus seemed essential to us. The work is varied. It is necessary to involve the small local associations in the adventure while working together with the IOC. This requires good communication and transversal coordination between elected officials and technicians, integrating many different professions and political, sports and cultural institutions.
As for inspiring initiatives, they are revealed through dialogue with our partners, daily curiosity, and exchanges during events such as those of the Union. We are at the very beginning of these celebrations which will last almost 18 months. We always enjoy being inspired by good practices and will enjoy sharing our own as well as the challenges we faced after the anniversary.