I wasn't expecting this when I flew to Paris for the Rugby World Cup

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The Rugby World Cup is underway in France and it's very much a test-bed for the 2024 Olympics. Nicola Adam flew to a sweltering Paris to find out more.

It's 8pm, it's 34 degrees and something remarkable is happening at the Rugby World Cup and International Wheelchair Rugby Cupfan zone in Paris - billed as the beating heart of the tournament until October 28.

Around me, fans from nations across the world are united in learning the Haka - a tribal Māori war dance for the uninitiated -and not a cross word has been said. This is despite the all consuming heat, despite the gallons of beer, despite the security sweeps they had to endure to get in and despite most being sodden wet, a mixture of sweat and the misting showers positioned at entry points in a vain attempt to cool everyone down.

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Tempers could easily be frayed as the first match of the tournament looms (France v. New Zealand) yet as excitement and volume palpably rises in this zone designed in the shape of an oval ball, the atmosphere is one of camaraderie and cheerful competition. As fans wearing colours from both nations - plus a few other countries thrown in - stand in an circle and play a casual game of rugby throw and catch amid the crowd, I can't help thinking football could learn a lot from this event.

In the cloying and unexpected September heat of the Place de la Concorde zone at the end of the Champs-Elysees - the biggest public space in Paris and where historically Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette were guillotined in the French Revolution - fans queue at the temporary water fountains.

Paris's plastic pledge means visitors using a reusable drinking cup to collect water and beer, hugely reducing waste. Language may be an issue but fans laugh and joke under the looming presence of famous Parisian monuments including the Luxor Obelisk, Fontaine des Mers and Fontaine des Fleuves.

Meanwhile a concert is underway on stage boasting the the iconic Eiffel Tower (and the Obelisk) as its surreal backdrop; the entertainment a careful combination of both New Zealand and France with every announcement shared in both English and French.

The Eiffel Tower looms over the the Rugby World Cup fan zone in ParisThe Eiffel Tower looms over the the Rugby World Cup fan zone in Paris
The Eiffel Tower looms over the the Rugby World Cup fan zone in Paris | NW

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With the game due to start, the opening ceremony begins, broadcast on an enormous screen and the Patrouille de France - the French equivalent of the Red Arrows - zoom overhead the stadium and fan zone leaving an iconic red, white and blue trail behind them. Vive le France.

Then, the only off-pitch discord I heard all evening, as French President Emmanuel Macron is booed by fans ahead of his opening speech.


The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office which is essentially Chief Executive of the city, is also here as is her deputy Pierre Rabadan - himself a former French rugby test player who is additionally in charge of Sport, Olympics and the Paralympics which his city is hosting next year.

"I am particularly proud to be able to welcome this village in the heart of Paris, which will embody the national and Parisian fervour around rugby, It is essential for us to offer Parisians, but also all visitors and fans, a place to celebrate that is worthy of this major international sporting event, commemorating the sport in an iconic location in the City of Paris. It will reflect our ambitions in terms of inclusiveness, eco-responsibility and organisation in the run-up to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games"

Pierre Rabadan, Deputy Mayor of Paris

Behind the scenes, preparations are well underway for next year's Olympics. Paris, sticking to its environmental pledge, is not largely constructing huge new stadiums for the events - the only exception is a badminton and power-lifting arena - instead using the opportunity to invest in improving existing facilities and boost its poorer communities.

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Lots of building work is underway to improve its offer and transport options for visitors; they have had huge hurdles to overcome - not least making The Seine a safe place to swim for the first time in 100 years. The €1.4bn (£1.2bn) project has seen construction of a huge underground reservoir to store flood water when rain pours - it means Olympic triathlon, marathon swimming and Para-triathlon will all take place in the river next year. Test events for the Olympics will take place later in 2023.

We visit the iconic Carreau du Temple building - inherited from the Knights Templar in the 12th century -in the centre of Paris. Currently a community hub, it will play host to the world's media from July 19 next year and will include 300 wired workstations, press conference rooms, radio studios, dressing rooms and stand up camera positions with sweeping views across Paris. Transport for media is still in the planning stages , but they hope to include bicycles - a mode of transport that is not just greener but arguably faster as the Paris traffic is intense, chaotic and not to be trifled with by strangers.,

Away from the fan zone, Paris is teeming in the heat. The wiser residents and tourists pop from air-conditioned shop to restaurant to bar - many adorned with Rugby World Cup decoration -and there are plenty of them. Paris is not a cultural and style capital for nothing; it's both glamorous and enthralling. We utilised the public transport system for a whistle-stop tourist tour.

Once you have mastered the ticket machines in the Metro it's fairly straightforward - the most economical way to buy is a handful of tickets that each last an hour and a half - they can also be used on the plentiful buses. It's also worth Googling which stations have air conditioning. For strangers, there is no doubt Paris can be intimidating, particularly away from the main tourist drag. Poverty and drug problems are visible on the surface here in the city, something the city's socialist Mayor is still trying to conquer.

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We viewed the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, walked along the Seine and visited the elaborate Pont Alexandre III for its vantage point and past the Hôtel des Invalides, commonly called Les Invalides, in the 7th arrondissement. These are all tourist hotspots; you need your wits about you are you are inundated with sellers flogging miniature Eiffel Towers and advising on the best selfie for a fee. We ate gloriously at the vibey Le Jaja Restaurant in Saint-Gervais, near Le Marais, which is a hard recommend from me.

There is no doubt that Olympic visitors are in for a treat in passionate Paris - if they can take the heat.

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