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Rain at Roland Garros: Could Covered Courts Help Paris 2024 Campaign?

15 Jun, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When play at Roland Garros was washed out by rain for the first time in more than 15 years, organizers were forced to answer a two-part question. The first was whether a roof over center court could make the facility better to host play during times of inclement weather.

The now-complete installation of retractable roofing over Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York means the French Open remains the only major tennis tournament without a structure that allows play to go on during rainy days. Even though May isn’t a traditionally rainy time in Paris, that region of France is dealing with its worst rain in years, causing delays in play, as well as significant problems for more than just tennis.

According to an Associated Press article on Yahoo! News, after years of delays, the French Tennis Federation is planning to construct a roof over center court by 2020, but work is on hold pending legal action from local residents and environmental activists. (Yes, even Paris has to deal with pushback from its version of PETA.)

Environmental groups opposing the extension claim that the construction of a new 5,000-seat court at the Serres d'Auteuil botanical garden will harm the vegetation. The botanical garden's 19th century greenhouses, a few hundred meters from Court Philippe Chatrier, host a large variety of tropical and local flowers. France's council of state - the country's highest administrative authority - is expected to issue a ruling in September.

And here’s where it gets sticky, and where the second question comes into play. There is a strong lobby  for the installation of a roof on the tennis venue, as it is thought as a way to better the city’s chances of hosting the Olympic Games in 2024.

Some, of course, disagree. Speaking to reporters at Roland Garros, bid co-chairman Bernard Lapasset said ''Roland Garros is already a fantastic venue for the Olympics. We can do more, but it's not crucial.''

But French Open director Guy Forget said delays in the construction and refurbishment work at Roland Garros could harm Paris' bid to host the Games – and he is eager to see his city take its place on the world stage of sports.

While the unheard-of amount of rain currently being dumped on Paris are not likely to recur, any city bidding for the Olympics is likely to boast of weather-proof structures in an attempt to sway decision-makers.

And realistically, it’s time for Roland Garros to expand. More courts would be needed for the Paris2024 bid, as well as for the facility in general.

''It might be easier to do the roof,'' Lapasset said. ''It's more complicated for the new court, which won't be inside (the current facilities of) Roland Garros. It's important for us that we can propose to IOC members a bid faithful to our environmental values. The zone is protected, and it's complicated to do something without the agreement of the people (living) around.''

Bid officials are planning to propose the venue for tennis in both the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as basketball and rugby as well as some soccer matches being hosted in the western Paris venue if the city wins the hosting rights. A new media center will also be constructed as part of revamping of the site, the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues. Roland Garros has been hosting the French Open since 1928, welcoming about 400,000 spectators every year at the congested 21-acre site.

Paris is competing against Budapest, Rome – and Los Angeles – for the Games. The IOC will choose a host city in September 2017 (although that hasn’t stopped any city from ramping up its lobby in the meantime.) 1924 was the last year for Paris to host an Olympics.

And at all costs, every city in contention is hoping to avoid any protests that would result in the type of work that groundswell groups like #NoBostonOlympics did. (In fact, #NoBostonOlympics representatives were also instrumental in helping Hamburg, Germany, craft a referendum that allowed residents to vote on whether or not that city should host the Games – and the vote was ultimately to back away from the bidding process, much to the disappointment of organizers.)

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