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Ahead of Olympics, more prison spaces being prepared for violators



View of a corridor to cells in the Villepinte detention centre in Villepinte near Paris, France, April 8, 2024. REUTERS/Layli Foroud

A police crackdown that aims to clear a poor suburb of petty crime and street vendors before the Paris 2024 Olympics is putting pressure on an overcrowded prison operating at almost double its capacity.

Villepinte is a grey, concrete detention centre in the suburb of Seine-Saint Denis. It lies 2.5 km from the Paris Arena Nord, set to host boxing and fencing competitions during the Games beginning on July 26.

It is among the most crowded prisons in France. Opened in 1991, Villepinte takes prisoners from the busy Bobigny courthouse nearby for pre-trial detention and short sentences.

“The penitentiary authority needs to prepare for the worst,” Eric Mathais, chief prosecutor at Bobigny, said in an interview.

Reducing inmate numbers ahead of the Olympics is unrealistic, Mathais said.


“We need to limit the number of people being imprisoned, but this is easier said than done as I am under extreme pressure from everyone to be clearly more repressive.”

Reuters interviewed thirteen prosecutors, judges, lawyers and clerks working in Bobigny court, who said that the Seine-Saint-Denis justice system was operating at the limits of its capacity and prosecuting increasingly minor infractions in preparation for the Games.

As of April 8, when Reuters visited Villepinte with local senator Corinne Narassiguin, there were 1,048 inmates for 582 places at the prison, according to director Pascal Spenle. The penitentiary cannot technically handle many more, Spenle said.

Reuters spoke to four inmates who described spending most of their days inside their cells, with up to three prisoners in cells designed for one, sharing a toilet and showering every other day. At least 17 prisoners were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, prison authorities said.

Yanis, a 20-year-old inmate, said he’d been on a waiting list for months for a prison work programme. One of his two cellmates, Adil, 25, said he had not met a reintegration councillor during seven months inside.


Prison doctor Ludovic Levasseur said he’d seen demand for mental health care rise in recent years while overcrowding meant long waiting lists for psychologists handling up to 60 patients each.

To avoid reaching breaking point, judges at Bobigny courthouse almost doubled the number of early releases from Villepinte and another prison last year, to nearly 500.

Still, Villepinte was operating at 180% of capacity in early April, from 177% in April last year and 168% the year before, data from the prison and Ministry of Justice shows.

Ahead of an expected surge in the Olympics build up, Spenle said, Villepinte plans to transfer inmates to other prisons, freeing up 220 places. In the longer term the prison will get a new wing, he said.

In a letter to French prosecutors dated 15 January, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti called for “fast, strong and systematic responses” to infractions that may disrupt the Games.


Spokesperson Cedric Logelin said the ministry was taking measures to reduce overcrowding and prevent crime during the Games. He said court decisions were independent.


Many of the Olympic events are being held in Seine-Saint-Denis. The region has the highest ratio of immigrants among France’s departments and is also the poorest.

Teachers have been on strike since February, saying schools in the area are under-resourced. Homeless and traveller populations have set up camps and squats in the department.

In some neighbourhoods, informal sellers line the streets.

Mohamed Gnabaly, mayor of Ile Saint Denis, a town in the area, said the Olympics had helped infrastructure and housing development delayed for years due to lack of investment.


However, Olivier Cahn, a sociologist at CESDIP, a French centre for research on law and prisons, said a reliance on policing and tough sentencing was disproportionately affecting the poor, migrant and homeless populations.

“All we have are short-term solutions,” said Cahn.

A zero-tolerance policing initiative launched last year that targets street crimes such as drug dealing and unlicensed selling in the area was adding to the prison population, prosecutor Mathais said.

Police deployed 4,000 extra officers in March and April, Seine-Saint-Denis police director of local security Michel Lavaud told reporters last week, calling it a clean up and saying the operation provided safety for locals and “tourists, audiences, the families of the athletes.”

“It is just the beginning, we are going to increase the intensity” ahead of the Games, Lavaud said.


The crackdown drew criticism from seven legal professionals Reuters spoke to.

Fouad Qnia, a defence lawyer at Bobigny, said heavy penalties for infractions such as unlicensed street selling were disproportionate and could further marginalise people in already vulnerable situations.


The recent policing operation targeted street vendors, police chief Lavaud said, including nearly 200 illegal cigarette sellers, some of whom were imprisoned and more than half of whom were handed deportation orders.

In one case, on April 3, a Bobigny judge ordered an Algerian man who moved to France two years ago to refrain from entering Seine-Saint-Denis for six months, including for the duration of the Games, after he was convicted of selling eight packets of cigarettes on the street.

He had previously been handed a suspended prison sentence and will face two months in jail, likely in Villepinte, if he is caught again in Seine-Saint-Denis or selling tobacco, assigned defence lawyer Jade Paya said, declining to name the man.


“They are in need. They don’t sell cigarettes because they like doing it,” she said.

Villepinte houses more than thirty nationalities, deputy director David Langelois said. He said the number of foreign inmates was high due to detentions at the nearby Charles de Gaulle airport and the demographic makeup of Seine-Saint-Denis.

Foreigners were 21% of France’s prison population in 2020, whereas they were just 10% of the general population, according to national statistics. France does not keep ethnic statistics, but some sociological studies attest to an over-representation of Black and Arab men in prisons.

Senator Narassiguin said people of colour faced heavier policing and harsh penalties for petty street crime. Ministry of Justice spokesperson Logelin said court sentences were based on individual cases. He declined to comment on the ratio of foreign prisoners.


France has the most overcrowded prisons in Europe after Romania and Cyprus, with its prison population growing faster in 2022 than anywhere in the bloc other than Slovenia, data from the Council of Europe shows.


Nationally, French prisons have never been fuller, Ministry of Justice data shows.

The Council of Europe expressed “deep concern” last month at the worsening overcrowding.

To deal with the caseload it expects during the games, the Bobigny court is preparing to pile on fast-track trials, which the International Prison Observatory (OIP) says are eight times more likely to end in a prison sentence than standard trials.

The use of fast-track procedures has gradually risen in recent years, justice ministry data shows, and has helped drive France’s prison overcrowding, said OIP researcher Johann Bihr.

The limited access to activities and support inside prisons because of overcrowding complicates reintegration into society, said charity Emergence 93, which works with former detainees.


Adding to the strain, during the Olympics, two car washes run by Emergence 93 that employ former prisoners in Seine-Saint-Denis will be forced to close. One car wash is in a shopping mall car park closed during the Games, the other on a site rented to the Japanese delegation.

Emergence 93 social worker Manuel Chajmowiez said the charity had asked Games organizers to allow ex-prisoners to clean some of a fleet of 500 cars provided for athletes and officials, but had not heard back.

“For now we have no work to offer,” Chajmowiez said.



Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.


Nigeria picks another Paris 2024 slot in table tennis



The number of Nigerian table tennis players heading to Paris 2024 Olympic Games increased to three after Fatimo Bello defeated Algeria’s Lynda Loghraibi 4-2 in the final of the second stage of the African Olympic Qualification Tournament at bK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Bello failed to qualify through the first stage of qualifiers after losing 4-1 to Cameroon’s Sarah Hanffou but she returned stronger to win the sole slot in the second stage of qualifiers of the women’s singles.

Bello will join her compatriots – Olajide Omotayo and Offiong Edem to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Also, Algeria’s Mehdi Bouloussa who missed out from the first stage of the qualifiers atone for his defeat to pick the last slot in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

The qualified players from Kigali qualifiers include Nigeria’s trio of Bello, Omotayo and Edem while Cameroon’s Sarah Haffou picked her tickets to third Olympics appearance while Fabio Rakotoarimanana became the first Madagascan table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games after picking the second slot in the first stage of the qualifiers. Mehdi Bouloussa of Algeria secured the final slot in the men’s singles.


Bouloussa, who narrowly lost 3-4 to Wassim Essid of Tunisia in the quarterfinal round of the first stage, returned to winning ways to pick the final ticket in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

To win the second stage of the qualifiers, Bouloussa defeated Saheed Idowu of Congo Brazzaville. (16-14, 11-4, 11-8, 11-4) to pick his maiden ticket to the Olympic Games.

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Nigeria all set for Olympic Day celebrations



"Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness" Popoola highlights. Pictured is Nigeria's Tobi Amusan in the women's hurdles in Tokyo. GETTY IMAGES

Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) Secretary General Babatunde Popoola says the committee, in collaboration with the Nigeria Sport For All Commission, is set for the country’s 2024 edition of Olympic Day celebration on 29 June.

Olympic Day is an annual international event that takes place in the month of June that is aimed at people of all ages and abilities to experience the magic of the Olympic Games in their own communities. Popoola says the event highlights the benefits of physical activity and for people to learn about Olympic values and practise them in their everyday life.

“Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness for individuals; jogging and walking burns calories, tones muscles, shapes your body and helps de-stress the mind.” NOC’s Secretary General stated. 

“Olympic Day has always been celebrated by NOC with fanfare nationwide and this year’s programme will not be an exception as many states are already preparing to organise the programme. 

“The states that have so far registered to participate are Anambra, Gombe, Taraba, Bayelsa, Imo, and Ondo, while others are still being expected to indicate their interest in the programme,” he continued.



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Opeyori becomes Nigeria’s first back-to-back qualifier as Badminton Olympic qualifiers are finalised



Anuoluwapo Opeyori is one of the 173 badminton players who have qualified for a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. His qualification means that he is the first Nigerian player to qualify for two Olympic Games. He featured at the delayed Tokyo 2020 and will thus made a back-to-back appearance.

The list of qualifiers has been released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). This includes 166 regular quota places (83 men and 83 women), three universality places from the IOC Tripartite Commission (two men and one woman), plus an additional place for IOC Refugee Olympic Team athlete Dorsa Yavarivata,  whose participation was confirmed earlier this month in a special announcement by the IOC

Opeyori dominated Africa in the men’s singles from 2019 till date winning four African Championship titles and two African Games titles.

An elated Francis Orbih, President of Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN)  remarked on Saturday that Anuoluwapo Opeyori has broken the jinx in Nigeria badminton by making it to the Olympic Games in Paris.

Orbih said Opeyori’s qualification shows that the current leadership of BFN’s target of producing world class players is beginning to manifest.


He revealed that BFN will leave no stone unturned in supporting the dreams and aspirations of the young players in making podium finishes.

Orbih said, “History has been made in badminton as Anuoluwapo Opeyori has secured a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games with the release made by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

“I am excited and full of joy because Anuoluwapo Opeyori is the first Nigerian badminton player to feature in the men’s singles at the Olympic Games and also the first Nigerian to attend two Olympics and back to back.

“Three years ago, it was Dorcas Adesokan in the women’s singles and Opeyori with his partner Godwin Olofua in the men’s doubles that made it to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Today, Anuoluwapo Opeyori will represent Nigeria in the men’s singles; the leadership of BFN and Nigeria are proud of him”.

Orbih charged Anuoluwapo Opeyori not to relent but continue to train and attain top form ahead of the Olympic Games.


He said, “I want to urge Anuoluwapo Opeyori to continue training hard for the Games; we are going to ensure he attends training tours before the Olympic Games”

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