By Julien Pretot and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) – The 2024 Olympics have allowed Paris and its region to speed up plans to extend their public transport network and other big projects such as cleaning up the Seine river, mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Wednesday.

Just over four months before the Games open on July 26, Paris brims with calls for strike around the event and with grumbling over overcrowded metro, and there is little public display of enthusiasm for the event.

But Paris’ Socialist mayor argues there is much to win for the city’s inhabitants – and the wider region’s poorer neighbourhoods.

“The question was ‘are we going to win and do we need it?’,” said Hidalgo, who needed convincing before getting embarked into the Paris bid in 2015 after the city lost to London for the 2012 Games.

“So what was missing in Paris? Well, its relationship with its neighbours, which could be improved by the main impact of the Games on Seine-Saint-Denis,” she told Reuters, referring to the underprivileged department just outside Paris, which she said will benefit from better infrastructure.

Hidalgo said that the north east of Paris will reap benefits from the Games, with the newly built Adidas Arena in the Porte de la Chapelle area while the Eiffel Tower zone will be renovated with the Pont d’Iena being closed to traffic.

The Place de la Concorde will also be partly closed to traffic and the River Seine will be suitable for bathing, she said, despite recent mishaps over sewer problems.

“Without the Games, I would have needed an extra 10 years” to make these transformations, she said.

“For me, it (preparing for the Olympics) was clearly an acceleration of the transformation of Paris, of the ecological transformation of Paris in terms of mobility, of swimming in the Seine, which I would not have been able to do on such a scale, at such a pace, if it hadn’t been for the Games.”

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.

“For me, and for all of us, swimming in the Seine is an obvious and necessary choice,” she said.

Beyond that, Hidalgo, who has been Paris’ mayor for ten years, said in the interview that the Games could help unify a city that has been hit by Islamist attacks, and by Covid.

“Maybe we need a very unifying event, and the Games are the most unifying event that can exist around sport,” said Hidalgo. “Maybe this event will allow us to do something together, to get together, to come together.”

Another issue is finding accommodation for some 3,000 homeless people before the Games. Hidalgo saying she has made proposals to the government to avoid sending them away from Paris without a place to stay.

“What’s holding things up at this stage, from what I understand, is the financial resources that the state could allocate,” she said.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ingrid Melander)

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