Greenhouse effect: Roland Garros unveils new look after years of legal wrangles

A general view of the renovated Philippe Chatrier court in Paris. (AP)
Updated 24 May 2019
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Greenhouse effect: Roland Garros unveils new look after years of legal wrangles

PARIS: After years of legal battles and threats to quit its historic home, Roland Garros will show off its new look next week, with a nod to the Eiffel Tower and a World War II resistance fighter while boasting enough plants and greenery to make even the most demanding environmentalist drool.

Ninety years after it was built, the French Open’s showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier was demolished soon after the 2018 event finished.

Fast forward 12 months and it has been almost completely rebuilt to accommodate the necessary strengthening required to support the retractable roof which will be in place for the 2020 edition of the sport’s only clay court Grand Slam.

The metal superstructure weighs half that of the Eiffel Tower, around 3,700 tons, said the French Tennis Federation’s director-general Jean-François Vilotte.

The roof will eventually allow for night sessions to be played even if Roland Garros still lags behind similar developments at the other three Slams.

The Australian Open has three covered courts already while Wimbledon and the US Open boast two retractable roofs apiece.

The 15,000-capacity Chatrier has expanded its shape and size, adding wooden seats to replace its aging green plastic.

Only the famous red clay of the court itself — where the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep will star from this weekend — has remained unchanged.

“We protected it, we put a concrete slab on it all the winter during the work,” said Gilles Jourdan, the head of the modernization project which is believed to cost an overall €350 million. “But the sweat of Mr.Lacoste is still there,” he added in reference to one of France’s greatest tennis icons, a three-time winner in Paris during the 1920s.

This year’s tournament will also see the debut of Court Simonne-Mathieu, a 5,000-seat arena named in honor of a World War II resistance hero and a former Roland Garros champion.

The semi-sunken arena was a controversial development inside the nearby Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, one of the capital’s most beloved green spaces.

It was only last May that the French federation emerged successful after five bruising years of bitter legal battles with environmentalists and well-connected local residents worried over the impact such construction would have over the gardens’ 19th century greenhouses.

At one stage, exasperated Roland Garros chiefs toyed with the idea of upping sticks out of Paris to start afresh in the suburbs.

But the court has been built, enclosed by four greenhouses housing “the only plant ecosystem of its kind,” say organizers of hosting collections from South America, Africa, South-East Asia and Australia.

The 10,000-seater Court Suzanne Lenglen remains although Roland Garros’ Court One ‘bullring’ is earmarked for demolition once the 2019 tournament ends.

In other changes this year, the west of Suzanne Lenglen has also undergone a radical transformation with six new courts built to supplement Court 14 which was a fresh addition in 2018.


Former UEFA head Platini detained in Qatar World Cup probe

Updated 18 June 2019
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Former UEFA head Platini detained in Qatar World Cup probe

PARIS: Michel Platini, the former head of European football association UEFA, was detained for questioning by French police on Tuesday over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup football tournament to Qatar, a judicial source told Reuters.

Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, was not immediately available to comment. The detention of the former football star was first reported by French investigative website Mediapart.

France’s national financial prosecutor’s office, which specializes in investigating economic crimes and corruption, has been leading a probe into the awarding of the 2022 tournament to the Gulf emirate since 2016.

It is looking into possible offenses including private corruption, conspiracy and influence peddling.

UEFA declined to comment, while officials with Qatar’s organizing committee could not immediately be reached.

The decision in December 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar surprised many given the lack of potential local audiences for the games, the extremely hot summer weather, and the poor performance of the country’s national squad. It will be the first Arab state to host the competition.

Le Monde newspaper reported that prosecutors were particularly looking into a lunch hosted by France’s then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, nine days before the vote that awarded the cup to Qatar. Platini and Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, who was Qatar’s prime minister and is now the country’s emir, were guests at the lunch.

Platini has since acknowledged that he supported Qatar over a rival bid from the United States in the vote, but said Sarkozy “never asked him to,” the newspaper said.

Two of Sarkozy’s aides at that time, then Elysee secretary general Claude Gueant and Sarkozy’s adviser for sports Sophie Dion, were also questioned by police on Tuesday, judicial sources confirmed to Reuters. Dion remains detained with Platini. Gueant is a “free suspect,” the source said.

The lawyer for Gueant, who later became interior minister, was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for Sarkozy declined to comment. A lawyer for Dion could not immediately be reached for comment.

Under French law, suspects can be held for questioning for up to 48 hours.

Platini was forced to leave his job as UEFA chief after he was investigated in another case over 1.8 million Swiss francs ($1.8 million) that he received from FIFA, the world governing body of football, in 2011. He was cleared in that case.

As a player in the 1970s and 1980s, Platini was a prolific striker, mainly for Saint-Etienne in France and Juventus in Italy. He played in three world cups, captaining the national squad to the semifinals in both 1982 and 1986.