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Paris 2024 chief pledges to find solutions to keep Olympic surfing in Tahiti after coral damage

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The Paris 2024 organizing committee president said Thursday he still wants the surfing competition at next year’s Olympics to take place in Tahiti despite the controversy surrounding the construction of the judging tower at the site, where coral has been damaged.

Speaking to local media Polynesie La Premiere, Tony Estanguet said he’s going to pour “all (his) energy” to keep the surfing in French Polynesia at the Tahiti site of Teahupo’o.

Because Teahupo’o’s surf breaks offshore, the Olympic judges have to be out in the lagoon. Organizers intend to install them and television cameras on an aluminum tower that will be attached to the reef.

That plan has sparked protests in Tahiti, with critics fearing for coral and other marine life. That criticism reached another level last week after coral was damaged when organizers tried to test out a barge used to build the tower in the surfing lagoon, leading local authorities to halt the construction.

“We need to find a solution to respect environment,” Estanguet said. “As organizers, we need to adapt.”

Critics on the island have voiced fears for coral reefs, fish and other aquatic life when the tower’s foundations are drilled into the seabed and mounted on concrete. Islanders pushed for the Olympics to use a wooden tower on existing foundations that have long been the setup for surfing competitions at Teahupo’o. They have collected more than 160,000 signatures with an online petition.

But Estanguet said the old judging tower does not meet Olympic standards for security reasons.

“We don’t want to compromise on safety — we won’t put anyone’s safety at risk,” Estanguet said.

He added that solutions will be find a way to let the barge access the site without damaging the coral reef.

Surfing’s governing body ISA said it “was saddened and surprised to see that a test undertaken by the French Polynesian government resulted in the coral reef at Teahupo’o being damaged.”

ISA also welcomed the decision to pause all further testing and “urged intensified consultations to consider all available options.”

The French towns of Lacanau and La Torche in continental France have both proposed to host the Games’ surfing events if the Tahiti site is finally abandoned. Estanguet said it’s not an option for now.

“As a partner of the Polynesian government I want to put all my energy…. to find the best solutions so we can have the surfing events in Tahiti,” Estanguet said. “We still have a bit of time to find another technical solution to have this tower installed while respecting the environment. This is the priority we all share.”

For France, the Tahitian venue will allow the host country to highlight its long historical ties to the Pacific and involve its far-off overseas territories in the Summer Games.

But the faraway Tahiti venue has also raised logistical and environmental questions because the rest of the Summer Games are focused in the host city, Paris, nearly 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) and 10 time zones away.


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