The Paris 2024 organising committee president is determined to keep the surfing competition at next year's Olympics in Tahiti despite the controversy surrounding the construction of the judging tower at the site, where coral has been damaged.
Speaking to local media Polynesie La Premiere, Tony Estanguet said he's going to pour "all (his) energy" to keep the surfing in French Polynesia at the Tahiti site of Teahupo'o.
Because Teahupo'o's surf breaks offshore, the Olympic judges have to be out in the lagoon. Organisers intend to install them and television cameras on an aluminum tower that will be attached to the reef.
That plan has sparked protests in Tahiti, with critics fearing for coral and other marine life. That criticism reached another level last week after coral was damaged when organisers tried to test out a barge used to build the tower in the surfing lagoon, leading local authorities to halt the construction.
"We need to find a solution to respect environment," Estanguet said. "As organisers, we need to adapt."
Critics on the island have voiced fears for coral reefs, fish and other aquatic life when the tower's foundations are drilled into the seabed and mounted on concrete.
Islanders pushed for the Olympics to use a wooden tower on existing foundations that have long been the setup for surfing competitions at Teahuo'o. They have collected more than 160,000 signatures with an online petition.
But Estanguet said the old judging tower does not meet Olympic standards for security reasons.
"We don't want to compromise on safety - we won't put anyone's safety at risk," Estanguet said.
He added solutions would be found to let the barge access the site without damaging the coral reef.
Surfing's governing body ISA said it "was saddened and surprised to see that a test undertaken by the French Polynesian government resulted in the coral reef at Teahupo'o being damaged."
ISA also welcomed the decision to pause all further testing and "urged intensified consultations to consider all available options."
The French towns of Lacanau and La Torche in continental France have both proposed to host the Games' surfing events if the Tahiti site is finally abandoned. Estanguet said it was not an option for now.
"As a partner of the Polynesian government I want to put all my energy ... to find the best solutions so we can have the surfing events in Tahiti," Estanguet said.
"We still have a bit of time to find another technical solution to have this tower installed while respecting the environment. This is the priority we all share."
Australian Associated Press