Paris 2024: A Unique Geoeconomic Opportunity for France
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Paris 2024: A Unique Geoeconomic Opportunity for France

In 2024, the eyes of the world will be on Paris as the City of Light hosts the Summer Olympics for the third time. The global event is returning to its homeland, to the place where Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic spirit. Expectations extend beyond nostalgia, current events or remembrance of the past. One hundred years after the VIII Olympiad, the Paris 2024 Games are about more than mere sporting excitement. They carry with them major economic stakes for more actors than the host city alone. An ideal opportunity to recall the growing importance of the geoeconomy of sport.

A high-stakes event for France, generating a multitude of opportunities

Paris 2024 is first and foremost a high-stakes event for France, and the reach of the Olympics will extend far beyond the Paris ring road. From Marseille to Tahiti, from La Concorde to Saint-Denis, from the Stade de France to the most far-flung of the Instituts Français, the Olympic spirit will be felt everywhere. The global celebration generated by major international sporting events transcends internal boundaries, be they mental, social or geographical. It touches every aspect and dimension of the country. Its impact and the hope it inspires extend beyond the sporting arena. Sport is a “total social fact”. Paris 2024 fully demonstrates this.

Sport and geoeconomics, an inseparable duo

Jean-Pierre Augustin explained in 2011 that “if sport has a hold on society, it’s because the economy has a hold on sport“. The French geographer was ahead of his time. Sport and economy are an inseparable duo. Since the 1980s, and even more so with the collapse of the communist model, sport moved to a new dimension. Today, it is an essential facet of globalisation processes and their evolution. Joseph Nye named sport as an element of America’s soft power and a vector of its hegemony. The powers that be have understood this.

These days, countries use sport to promote their interests. And the economic dimension is by no means the least important. For the French geographer, “the economic shift created by the globalisation of sport and its role as an amplifier of global ceremonies in the media” are invaluable. The geoeconomy of sport makes it possible to exist in international competition, but also to understand how our world works, its dynamics, the rationales of those involved and the issues that interest them. Simply put, if you want to understand the world, look at the way it plays. If you want to understand the global economy, look at how international sport works, who uses it and who stands out. There are numerous examples, from Saudi Arabia to India and Indonesia.

Sport, the economy and globalisation form an inseparable trio, all aspects of which need to be considered. Globally, the sports sector represents 2% of global GDP and is estimated to be worth over 1,200 billion euros, with growth driven by emerging markets. If we add to this the share coming from e-sports and growth prospects that only new technologies can rival, sport deserves to be taken far more seriously than it still too often is. According to the latest BPCE study, sport in France accounts for 2.6% of the country’s GDP, with annual net sales estimated at 71 billion euros in 2023. With 128,000 companies of all sizes operating across the entire country, the industry in the broadest sense of the term represents almost 450,000 jobs1. From both an economic and a political point of view, sport is far from insignificant. It has become strategic.

The importance of the geoeconomy of sport

Nevertheless, the geoeconomy of sport remains underestimated and thoroughly undervalued. The term “geoeconomy of sport”2 refers to how countries make use of the sports economy to assert and promote their interests and to show the importance they attach to them. Morocco, for example, has made the geoeconomy of sport a key area of focus in its territorial development and in increasing its attractiveness. The hosting of the 2025 African Cup of Nations and the co-hosting of the 2030 FIFA World Cup are accelerating its emergence. Some specialists, such as Moncef El Yazghi, believe that the Sherifian kingdom could gain a decade of visibility and growth as a result of the investments made in infrastructure and of the reputational spin-offs expected.

Similarly, the Rugby World Cup 2023 demonstrated the capacity of the sport to make an economic impact. According to the figures released by the Organising Committee in November 2023, the competition generated 2.4 billion euros in economic spin-offs, including 1.2 billion for the tourism sector. It created or maintained 41,000 jobs in France. It also boosted France’s attractiveness and prominence, with over 2 million foreign visitors welcomed during the competition. While it is not yet possible to measure its contribution to rugby’s development and media coverage, the World Cup illustrates the opportunities offered by the geoeconomy of sport.

However, awareness of this “phenomenon of civilisation so important that it should neither be ignored nor neglected by the ruling class and intellectuals3, is lagging. The sports economy receives little attention in the media, often limited to a few news outlets such as the Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Temps, Les Echos or the economy section of Le Figaro. And yet, the numbers do not lie. They are proof of the political and economic clout of sport. All players and decision-makers are beginning to realise it, albeit slowly.

Paris, global capital of a humanity that is united in spite of everything

Major international sporting events are a perfect example of the importance of this geoeconomy of sport. They outperform all other global events. The World’s Fairs and the World Forum are no match when it comes to impact, visibility and virality. The Olympic Games are unrivalled… with the exception of the FIFA World Cup. They have more impact than a COP, a Fashion Week or a BRICS summit. Major international sporting events gather humanity in one place that immediately becomes something of a global capital.

And this is one of the strengths of the geoeconomy of sport: it brings the world together like no other human experience aside from war and pandemics. Even the United Nations does not have the political and symbolic capacity to achieve unanimity and touch the world in all its diversity. In economic terms, this kind of focus is priceless.

The Paris 2024 Games are about much more than sport

Paris 2024 will place France at the centre of the world. And humanity will be watching the French capital like never before since the terrorist attacks, the Gilets Jaunes episode or the latest riots. This is invaluable at a time when Paris needs to rebuild its marketing strategy and modernise its city branding. And the attention will be on the entire country, not just Paris. The global hypercentrality made possible by MISE is a rare geoeconomic opportunity.

As underlined by Simon Chadwick, “The Olympic Games are a unique phenomenon extending far beyond the playing field. They are a geoeconomic catalyst.” Indeed, while the spin-offs may be political and geopolitical, they are primarily felt in all areas of the economy. From the development of infrastructure to the growth of the sports sector, but also France’s attractiveness and international reputation, nothing escapes the geoeconomic dynamics of sport. Major international sporting events are a real “economic boost”. It is a supply-side policy like no other, with material, reputational and symbolic impacts. They are among the few events that generate a real trickle-down effect when their organisation and legacy are fully and rationally thought through.

Like Euro 2016 or the Rugby World Cup, the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are a development lever for an entire industry. An event of this magnitude shines a spotlight on the country’s start-ups. The event becomes a showcase for the know-how of our local champions. The organisation of the Paris Games is already boosting training, coaching and participation in sport. It will increase France’s competitiveness on the international stage in both traditional sports and e-sports. According to the French Minister for Sport, Amélie Oudéa Castera, “The Paris 2024 Games will have a considerable impact on the sports industry. They will help to develop talent and strengthen France’s position on the world sporting stage.

Indeed, like all other major international sporting events, the Paris 2024 Games are contributing to an economic surge that will boost the national economy far beyond the sports sector alone. Of course, there are considerable organisational costs and negative externalities to consider, but estimates put the economic impact of the event at close to 10 billion euros. Over 15 million visitors are expected, most of them from abroad. The economic benefits will be substantial in these troubled times. This windfall spans multiple sectors ranging from tourism to hotels, the construction industry, security, events, media and all other related services.

For the local and national economy, an event of this type is a breath of fresh air, a major stimulus. In terms of growth, jobs, structuring of the industry, but also experience and visibility for the country’s economic players, the impact is substantial. As Simon Chadwick explains very well, “The Olympic Games are a fantastic opportunity for a city or a country to highlight its economic and tourism potential. They are a global showcase that can have lasting benefits if well managed.” London 2012 took advantage of this. As a result of hosting the FIFA World Cup, Doha’s status has changed. Los Angeles 2028 is an opportunity to revitalise the City of Angels. As for Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat, they are already preparing for the 2030 World Cup.

The geoeconomy of sport and of mega sporting events brings unique reputational benefits

There are costs involved in international events of this type. These are obviously a cause for concern. No one has forgotten the difficulties associated with Montreal 1976 or Athens 2004. But ultimately, these mega-events are unparalleled. Today, it is impossible for any one power to be the sole focus of global attention. Sport makes it possible. It offers a unique opportunity for a state and a host city to take over the world calendar for their own benefit, and to offer the world and their own people a favourable, unifying narrative.

The geoeconomy of sport bolsters the power of the host state. It takes full advantage of the “power of the imagination”, which sport sparks and fuels. In terms of place marketing and place branding, sport propels the host nation into a moment that only occurs every four years for the Summer Games or World Cups.

Sport is a unique drawing card for investors, tourists and talent from around the world. That is why its biggest events are so popular. They go hand in hand with a positive, festive national narrative that remains in people’s memories, a storytelling that reaches far beyond sports fans alone. In an increasingly competitive and fragmented world, sport offers a unique geoeconomic opportunity. Germany is demonstrating this by hosting Euro 2024 and, like Narendra Modi’s India, contemplating a bid for the 2036 Olympics. Saudi Arabia, with the Asian Games and the hosting of the 2034 World Cup, is grabbing its own piece of the pie.

The fact that global giants are so heavily invested in sport underscores the strategic importance of its geoeconomy. Sport is not life-changing for countries, but it is an essential element in international competition. Overlooking its geoeconomic impact means passing up an opportunity to stand out.

  1. This figure is obtained by adding together the jobs generated by sports businesses (330,000) and sports associations (115,000) according to the BPCE study carried out in 2020 prior to the COVID pandemic. ↩︎
  2. Simon Chadwick calls this the Geopolitical Economy of Sport. ↩︎
  3. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Les Terrains: écrits sur le sport, translated from the Italian by Flaviano Pisanelli, Paris, Le Temps des Cerises, 2012. Quote by PP Pasolini, deceased in 1975. ↩︎