To kick off the men’s world handball championships in style, Paris treated fans and passersby alike to a surprise lightshow on the Arc de Triomphe on Tuesday night, with projections of the French team and the flags of participating countries flashing on the famous arch.
“We’ve been working on the preparation of this event for five years,” said French Handball Federation president Joël Delplanque, who was at the spectacle on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
“To see our colours, our sport, here on the greatest avenue in the world, is a dream we had never imagined which has come true in front of our eyes.”
France under pressure
Coach Didier Dinart is under pressure to secure a French victory in Wednesday’s opening match against Brazil, as he is defending his country’s 2015 title.
The French men’s team has previously won four world championships, in 1995, 2001, 2009 and 2011.
"There are high expectations,” Dinart admitted. “We want to be in the best form possible to have the best possible results in this world championship.”
The French side has already had a bit of a hiccup, with Dinart announcing the day before the tournament that player Timothey Nguessan will sit out the first match due to a foot injury. The coach assured however that the injury is not serious.
This means that 15 players, instead of 16, are on the roster for the opening match.
Bid for 2024 Olympic Games
In organising Tuesday night’s Arc de Triomphe lightshow, Paris officials not only wanted to dazzle passersby, they also wanted to show off their flair in hosting a major international sporting event.
The French capital has bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. The other two candidate cities are Budapest and Los Angeles.
Paris official Jean-François Martins said that the handball world championship presented “an opportunity for Paris to prove to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) our savoir-faire, our passion and the enthusiasm of the French people”.
“It’s a chance for us to prove that Paris is a welcoming city that is open to the world,” he added.
More than 400,000 fans are expected to attend the event’s matches.
Twenty-four teams will face off over the next couple weeks in matches throughout France, before the final on Sunday 29 January.