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French Polynesia president backs Olympics surf venue rethink

The president of the French overseas territory of French Polynesia has suggested an alternative venue for the 2024 Olympics surf competition after plans for a gigantic tower at a planned venue in Tahiti site caused uproar.

Surfers are due to catch the first waves of the Paris Games in nine months in Tahiti, some 15,000 kilometres (9,300 miles) from the French capital, but a plan to build a giant tower in a legendary surf spot is sparking resistance.

The organisers of the 2024 Games want to erect a 14-metre (46-foot) aluminium structure in the water for judges to better assess the competition.

Local associations have led protests against the tower, saying its installation would damage corals beyond repair.

Several hundred people recently joined a peaceful protest at the site near the village of Teahupoo –- one of the world’s most famous surfing areas and the designated Olympic venue.

An online petition against the project has attracted close to 150,000 signatures.

Moetai Brotherson, President of French Polynesia — which comprises more than 100 islands including Tahiti — told AFP on Tuesday that he shared the environmental concerns, and suggested a different spot for the competition, without the need for a tower.

While less well-known than the original venue, the site at Taharuu Beach on Tahiti’s west coast was more accessible and already had all the necessary infrastructure on land, he said on the sidelines of a Pacific islands forum on the Cook Islands.

Taharuu had been in the running previously but, Brotherson said, “that choice wasn’t possible at the time”.

However, he said, “given the stakes and the protests today, perhaps we could revisit that option”.

He said drilling for the tower’s foundations would not be possible without “breaking corals”.

Brotherson, who supports independence from France, took up his post in the wake of elections this year won by pro-independence forces who want to negotiate a referendum with Paris on the archipelago’s status.

French Polynesia is one of several French overseas territories that span the Caribbean and the Pacific and give Paris a global footprint unmatched by any other European nation.

Surfing made its bow as an Olympic sport at the Covid-delayed Tokyo Games, when it was held on Tsurigasaki Beach on mainland Japan, and France was keen to keep it on the roster.

France’s Atlantic coast hosts some of Europe’s most famous surfing beaches and local officials had been hopeful of hosting the event.

When Tahiti was announced, dignitaries in coastal resorts like Biarritz were unimpressed –- not least because of the cost and the carbon emissions involved in putting a chunk of the Olympics on in the South Pacific.

The tower alone is expected to cost around 4.4 million euros ($4.7 million).

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