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Paris 2024 insists on tower construction for next year’s Olympic surfing venue despite opposition

<i>Jerome Brouillet/AFP/Getty Images/File</i><br/>Australian surfer Jack Robinson rides a wave during the men's final of the Tahiti World Surf League (WSL) professional competition
Jerome Brouillet/AFP/Getty Images/File
Australian surfer Jack Robinson rides a wave during the men's final of the Tahiti World Surf League (WSL) professional competition

By Maya Szaniecki, Chris Liakos and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

(CNN) — Paris 2024 organizers say they are going ahead with their plan to build a new aluminum judging tower in Tahiti, French Polynesia in spite of opposition from the International Surfing Association (ISA), locals and surfers.

In a statement Wednesday, organizers insisted that building the tower is “the only option that provides sufficient guarantees for the smooth running of the competition and the safety of the athletes and all those involved.”

Teahupo’o is regarded as one of the world’s best surf spots, and is home to World Surf League (WSL) tour competitions, where a wooden structure is usually erected for competitions and later removed.

However, Olympic organizers say the aluminum tower – weighing nine tons – is necessary to host 40 people who be involved in judging and televising the competition next year.

On Tuesday, the ISA said in a statement it opposed the tower’s construction.

The surfing body had already voiced concern earlier this month, after a barge – used to build the tower – was stuck on the reef, damaging coral, forcing the construction to be paused. Paris 2024 and local authorities said back then that they would work on reducing the size and weight of the initially planned tower.

The ISA said that following the incident, it proposed alternative ways of judging the competition, including “judging the competition remotely, with live images shot from land, water and drones.”

However, n a statement Wednesday, Paris 2024 said that “this option has already been reviewed” and “ruled out,” citing visibility and security reasons.

“While the solution of judging from footage may already have been used at other international surfing competitions, it was not feasible at Teahupo’o because it did not provide sufficient guarantees for refereeing, broadcast coverage and securing the water surface, given the specific characteristics of the site,” Paris 2024 said, adding that the proposal of using a temporary platform to install cameras was also rejected for “security reasons.”

The organising committee said that work on the new revised tower has begun, inviting the ISA “to respect the choice made by local stakeholders for this solution.”

Local opposition

Opposition to the building of the tower has been fierce since plans were revealed.

petition by residents and visitors of Teahupo’o calling for the government to rethink the tower, as well as the drilling of the platform and the underwater pipelines for the surfing competition has received almost 230,000 signatures, and pro surfers including Kelly Slater and Kanoa Igarashi have spoken out about its construction.

Campaigners and local residents have long been raising concerns about the impact of the new structure on the environment.

Astrid Drollet, secretary of the Vai Ara O Teahupo’o association, which is behind the petition Save Teahupo’o Reef, told CNN previously that the existing wooden tower “has been in use for 20 years and is very well maintained.”

“So we don’t understand why Paris 2024 and French Polynesia are not using this tower for the four days of competition,” Drollet said, adding that the new tower “is going to cause major damage to the environment.”

There are over 1,000 species of fish and 150 species of coral in French Polynesia, according to Tahiti’s tourism board. Threatened by the effects of climate change and mass tourism, the corals are a highly protected species.

Earlier this month, surfers in southwestern France also mounted a protest about the Teahupo’o site’s development.

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