Olympics-Safety is Paris 2024's priority, Games boss says amid surfing tower row

FILE PHOTO: People protesting plans to build a new judging tower for the Paris 2024 Olympic surfing event in Tahiti gather outside the headquarters of the International Surfing Association in Cardiff near San Diego, California, U.S. December 2, 2023. David Anderson/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - Safety is Paris 2024's top priority, organising committee president Tony Estanguet said on Thursday after the construction of a judging tower for the surfing competition at next year's Olympics was stopped because of environmental concerns.

Last week, a barge bringing the aluminium tower to the Tahiti site of Teahupo'o damaged the coral reef, bringing work to a halt.

"We had found a solution to replace that (wooden judging) tower which did not meet the (Olympic) safety standards. We will not compromise on safety," Estanguet told local TV channel Polynesie La 1ère.

"The first test did not go well, some coral was damaged. The works were stopped immediately. With the Polynesian government we are trying to find some technical solutions while respecting the environment."

While the French cities of Lacanau and La Torche said they would be ready to host the surfing events if needed, Estanguet insisted there was still time to find a solution, with just under eight months to go before the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics.

"I heard some cities were candidates in case we fail in Teahupo'o. But as a partner of the Polynesian government I want to put all my energy into the project so we can have the surfing events in Tahiti," said Estanguet

"We have been anticipating so we have time ahead of us. We still have a bit of time to find another technical solution to have this tower installed while respecting the environment.

"I trust the local authorities and the company in charge of the installation to find a way to get this barge access to the site without damaging the coral."

In October, residents of Teahupo'o protested against plans by Games organisers to build a 14 metre aluminium tower that would allow up to 40 people to watch, film and judge the surfing at a famed break in front of the village.

Organisers, including Paris 2024 and the French Polynesia government, said last month they had decided that building a smaller, lighter tower on the site was the best option. This would allow for smaller installation equipment but would still require new foundations in the reef.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)

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