With its azure waters and glamourous image, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nice is a place of rest and relaxation. Far from it. In recent years, the city has established itself as the southern capital of sport and its reputation looks set to grow.
‘A city that has it all’ might sound like a bit of a boast, but with almost 10 kilometres of seafront and the southern Alps as a striking background, Nice has plenty going for it in terms of sporting terrain. Look further into the cityscape and you’ll find countless public sportsgrounds, swimming pools, parks and, of course, pétanque pitches.
Sport and the benefits it brings – from health to social and economic – are firmly on the agenda for the city, which welcomed back its former motorbike professional mayor, Christian Estrosi, for his third term earlier this year. In an interview with Riviera Insider, Nice’s delegate for sporting events and a retired Ligue 1 footballer who played for teams including Paris Saint-Germain, José Cobos talks about the city’s prowess as an international sports destination and its grand future on the world stage.
Monsieur Cobos, how many sporting events does Nice host annually?
From the smallest events, like a simple pétanque tournament within a close-knit neighbourhood, to the biggest, such as the Nice-Cannes Marathon that welcomes more than 14,000 runners, around 500 sporting events are organised and supported by the Ville de Nice each year. The local government attaches huge importance to all of these events because they’re part of the overall passion of our mayor, Christian Estrosi, to make Nice a great city of sport.
Are there any events that stand out in particular for their successes and economic impacts on the city of Nice?
First of all, there are a number of recurring events that we organise every year, like the Prom’ Classic that is taking place in January, the arrival of the final Paris-Nice cycling stage in March, the IRONMAN in June, the Tour de France à la Voile in July and the thoroughly international marathon that will happen this November. We’ve also hosted many exceptional sporting events, such as the World Figure Skating Championships in 2012, the time trial for the Tour de France in 2013, the European Masters Games in 2015, UEFA European Football Championship in 2016 and at the end of next April, we’ll have the Nice Ultimed, an incredible regatta of the largest trimarans in the world – the first of its kind in the Mediterranean. The following year, the city will welcome the IRONMAN 70.3 (a half IRONMAN) and the Women’s Football World Cup. If France is lucky enough to be selected on 15th November, we might also have the Rugby World Cup in 2023*. A portion of the Olympic Games in 2024 will take place here too. These events reinforce the international dimension of our city, inspire young people to get involved with sports, and create massive economic profits and media exposure for Nice. For example, the 2016 Euros generated almost 1.77 million euros of economic fallout for Nice and the region in the space of a month. On 2nd July 2013, 600,000 viewers tuned in for the Nice time trial of the Tour de France and 96% of our hotels were filled for a week. In 2012, the Mondiaux de Patinage figure skating competition saw 20 million euros of direct economic benefits in just one week!
What role will Nice play in the 2024 Olympic Games?
Nice has been chosen as one of the host cities for the football events. The quality of our Allianz Riviera stadium, which more than proved itself during the 2016 Euros, impressed those who represented the Paris bid for the Games. Add to that the fact that Nice is home to the Musée National du Sport – a place that will certainly have a role to play during the Olympics – and our ability to welcome high numbers of guests, and the city could very well be a location picked as a preparation site for international delegates.
Nice is the hometown of many an important athlete from Yannick Agnel and Camille Muffat to Jules Bianchi, Jean-François Tordo and Clément Lefert. How is the Ville de Nice continuing the city’s great sporting traditions?
Our athletes have and continue to be excellent ambassadors and driving forces for the city. They are part of our sports policy and we maintain good relations with them throughout the year. They symbolise the ambition we have for sport in Nice: a global goal where grassroots sport is linked to high-level sport, and where major sporting events are organised with the aim of getting as many people involved as possible. The completion of the magnificent Allianz Riviera stadium in September 2013 shouldn’t overshadow the fact that, in the space of nine years, we’ve opened 23 synthetic sportsgrounds across all areas of the city. The result is that the number of members of sports federations increased by 10% between 2008 and 2017. For football, that figure is 38% thanks to these new sites, which have allowed more people to participate and play.
Our athletes symbolise the ambition we have for sport in Nice: a global goal where grassroots sport is linked to high-level sport, and where major sporting events are organised with the aim of getting as many people involved as possible.
On a more sombre note, how has your approach to security changed since the attack on the Promenade des Anglais –which is a popular location for sporting events – in July 2016?
Public safety and security has become a central factor in the organisation of sporting and non-sporting events, particularly for those outside of a stadium environment like the ones you mention on the Promenade des Anglais. This requires a lot of collaborative effort with the organisers and the Prefecture of the Alpes-Maritimes. It also comes at a great cost. On average, the budgets of events have increased by 10 to 20% in order to meet the security priorities that have now become paramount.
And finally, what is it about Nice and its surrounding areas that make it such a top sporting destination?
The city’s strengths allow us to position Nice as a place worthy of welcoming large-scale events: the cosmopolitan and global nature of Nice and the Côte d’Azur, our remarkable hospitality capacity, the presence of France’s second busiest international airport, our exceptional geographical setting between sea and mountains, and, of course, our superb stadium in the form of Allianz Riviera.
*Article originally published in November 2017. France has since been successful in its bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.