Olympics-Macron promises to swim in Seine river as he inaugurates athletes' village


France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks with an employee of Solideo as he visits the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, northern Paris, France February 29, 2024. The village, constructed on a 52-hectare site is located on a cluster of former industrial wastelands with the centrepiece being the Cite du Cinema. LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS

SAINT-OUEN, France (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday promised to take a swim in the river Seine one day, as he officially inaugurated the 2024 Olympic village and praised the legacy the Games will leave to Paris, including a swimmable river.

The keys to the 52-hectare village, just north of Paris along the Seine, were officially handed to the Olympics organisers on Thursday. It will host some 14,500 athletes and their staff before welcoming 9,000 for the Paralympics.

"You bet I will," Macron told reporters when asked if he would swim in the river Seine, which the city has promised to make clean enough for swimming by 2025.

"I will do it," Macron said. "But I won't give you the date, or you risk being there," he quipped, before giving a wink.

Paris has been working on cleaning up the Seine so that people can swim in it again, as was the case during the 1900 Paris Olympics. But a sewer problem last summer led to the cancellation of a pre-Olympics swimming event.

Macron is not the first French politician to promise to swim in the Seine. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she would do so more than three decades after her predecessor Jacques Chirac famously promised to do it "in the presence of witnesses" but never did.

The comments came as Nicolas Ferrand, the general director of SOLIDEO, the company in charge of delivering the Olympics infrastructure, handed a symbolic key to the village to Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet, officially concluding a seven-year journey since Paris was awarded the Games.

After the Games, the village will be turned into an eco-friendly neighbourhood benefiting 6,000 residents and featuring two schools, a hotel, a public park, shops and offices plus planted areas for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles.

"Our athletes will be able to experience the Games in the best conditions and you contributed to changing the lives of the people in the area," Macron said.

He hailed France as a "nation of builders".

"What has been done on time and within budget as we finalise the reconstruction of Notre Dame is nothing short of remarkable," Macron added.

Notre-Dame is set to reopen for religious services and to the public on Dec. 8 this year, the cathedral having been renovated after being ravaged by fire in 2019.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot and Michel Rose; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ken Ferris)

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