Paris Olympic bid leader: Roof at Roland Garros not crucial

PARIS (AP) While essential for the French Open, a roof over center court at Roland Garros is ''not crucial'' for Paris' bid to host the 2024 Olympics, the city's bid leader said Monday as heavy rain washed out play at the clay-court Grand Slam for the first time in 16 years.

The French Open is the only major tennis tournament without a structure allowing play to go on during rainy days.

After years of delays, the French tennis federation is planning to have one over center court by 2020, but extension works are currently put on hold by legal action from local residents and environmental activists.

Speaking to reporters at Roland Garros, bid co-chairman Bernard Lapasset said ''Roland Garros is already a fantastic venue for the Olympics. We can do more, but it's not crucial.''

Poor weather has been playing havoc with the schedule at the French Open this year but showers are not so frequent in the summer months.

Last week, French Open director Guy Forget said delays in the construction and refurbishment work at Roland Garros could harm Paris' bid to host the 2024 Olympics.

Environmental groups opposing the extension claim that the construction of a new 5,000-seat court at the Serres d'Auteuil botanical garden will harm the vegetation. The botanical garden's 19th century greenhouses, a few hundred meters from Court Philippe Chatrier, host a large variety of tropical and local flowers. France's council of state - the country's highest administrative authority - is expected to issue a ruling in September.

''It might be easier to do the roof,'' Lapasset said. ''It's more complicated for the new court, which won't be inside (the current facilities of) Roland Garros. It's important for us that we can propose to IOC members a bid faithful to our environmental values. The zone is protected, and it's complicated to do something without the agreement of the people (living) around.''

Bid officials are planning to use the venue both for the Olympics and Paralympics, with tennis competitions, wheelchair events in tennis, basketball and rugby as well as five-a-side soccer matches being hosted in the western Paris venue if the city wins the hosting rights.

Paris is competing against Budapest, Rome and Los Angeles for the games. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city in September 2017. Paris last hosted the Olympics in 1924.

A new media center will also be constructed as part of revamping of the site, the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues. Roland Garros has been hosting the French Open since 1928, welcoming about 400,000 spectators every year at the congested 21-acre (8 1/2-hectare) site.

''Guy Forget is a very good man, in terms of the values he promotes here,'' Lapasset said. ''But we all need to be pushing in the same direction. The zone is protected and that's central in the discussions we are having. If we can do something, why not? But it's complicated if you don't have the agreement of the people (living) around.''

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