The organizers of the Paris 2024 Olympics have not considered the position of the International Surfing Association (ISA) regarding the installation of an aluminum tower in a sensitive marine ecosystem at Teahupoo in Tahiti.
The controversy surrounding the construction of a judging tower over the coral reef a few yards from the famous surf break continues.
The Paris 2024 official, in conjunction with the French Polynesian government, decided to replace the wooden structure that served as a judging tower for the World Surf League (WSL) events at Teahupoo.
The scaffolding has been operating without issues since 2003.
Despite the protests from the Tahitian population and the world surfing community throughout 2023, the Olympic organizers and the local authorities decided to continue constructing the three-story aluminum tower.
The original design was slightly downgraded, but the changes did not convince surfers or the ISA.
In early December, the ISA said it was "surprised" to see that a test undertaken by the French Polynesian government resulted in the coral at Teahupoo being damaged by a barge that ran aground on the reef during high tide.
ISA Proposal: Presented
On December 19, the ISA issued a statement saying a proposal was sent to the French Polynesian Government and Paris 2024 organizers to run the Olympic Surfing competition in Teahupoo without building a new aluminum tower on the reef.
The organization led by Fernando Aguerre suggests that the Olympic surfing event's judging should be done remotely, with live images shot from land, water, and drones.
The document titled "Alternative Technical Solutions for Judging" provides two options that mitigate the impact that the construction will have on the reef:
Option A: Judges on a Tower on Land, Using Reduced Camera Platform on the Reef on Existing Footings
Pending validation by the Tahitian authorities, a reduced platform would be constructed using the existing footings sufficient solely for three Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) cameras and operators, with the same line of sight from the old wooden tower.
- Judges are located on a tower, in a similar location to the current camera platform on the beach, with a line of sight to the wave;
- Judges in a closed room use large screens with multi-angle camera feeds to see all angles of the waves based on the existing OBS production plan;
- The new aluminum tower that has been provisionally constructed on the land could be considered for this purpose;
- The camera platform on the reef and the tower on the beach would have to be high enough to see over the breaking waves. The use of remote or robotic cameras on the reef platform is excluded;
- The single, fixed "field of play" camera currently in the OBS plan would remain on the beach, either on the tower or a separate highly elevated platform;
Option B: Judges on a Tower on Land Without Cameras on the Reef
If the use of the existing footings is not possible, the alternative solution will be to place the 3 OBS cameras on top of, or very near to, the judge's tower on land in a location TBD.
- Use 100x Long Lens technology for all cameras with high-level zoom;
- Positioned to "mimic "the tower angles as best as possible with the position of the tower or second camera platform;
- Use of boom/crane or scissor lift cameras (see photo) is also possible and very successfully used in professional golf coverage, including the Olympics;
- Judges to have continuous or instant access to all possible OBS camera angles, as per the current plan, including water/boat cameras and drones;
ISA Proposal: Rejected
The ISA proposal featured additional technical, operational, and technology requirements for both options, including:
- Technical Officials (ITOs) boat added to the channel lineup for priority and beach announcers, ideally in view of the take-off zone. Priority Judges and Board to be located on this boat. The Priority Board is positioned high enough and angled to ensure the athlete's visibility. Sufficient acoustics from the boat for athletes to hear messages from the ITO boat. Should the ITO boat not provide sufficient visibility, another boat could be positioned in the channel but further out so it will not hidden by breaking waves;
- Field of Play (FOP) camera (wide view continuously live) on or near the judges' tower and not part of OBS production. The FOP cam to create a real-time view and "the feeling of the lineup" for the judges. Available on a large monitor(s) and viewable at all times;
- Seamless (wireless) connection from all cameras to the Main Tower for OBS and Replay System. Depending on whether a platform on the reef can be used, the four OBS cameras and two OBS boat cameras would ensure there is always a backup image: Main Tower view plus the Lagoon view, with jetski cam and drones as additional tools;
- Uninterrupted radio communication and technology connection between the Main Tower Officials and the Technical Officials Boat (Priority Judge and Beach Announcer);
Despite the efforts, the proposal was not accepted by the French Polynesian government, which confirmed the decision to go forward with a plan to build a new aluminum tower on the Teahupoo reef.
"While the solution of judging from footage may already have been used at other international surfing competitions, it was not feasible at Teahupoo 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 stresses in a press release.
The world governing body for the sport of surfing announced it would not support the construction of the aluminum structure.
The ISA also noted that it was the government of French Polynesia that declared the existing wooden judging tower "not legally compliant."
As a result, some questions arise.
Will the ISA accept to run the Olympic surfing competition in a structure that it does not approve?
Will Olympic surfers accept to compete for medals in a scenario that seems to hurt the local marine life?
Who will take responsibility in case the Teahupoo coral reef gets permanently damaged?