French City Revisits Its Roots To Cash In On Olympics

More than 450 years after being liberated from the English, the French coastal town of Calais is boasting of its links with the traditional enemy across the English Channel. The 2012 Olympics are in London, and Calais is determined to win some of the attention and money associated with the event.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

People in one corner of France are looking forward to their chance to host the Olympics in 2012. That may surprise people who recall that London beat out the French for the Olympics that year. But the far north of France is just across the English Channel from all those Olympic events. France and England are ancient rivals and that rivalry changed the world, as we'll hear from Renee in a moment. But right now, many people in France are setting aside the rivalry in a bid to cash in. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The French city of Calais is the point in continental Europe closest to England. In 1347 it actually became a part of England, with full representation in Parliament, until the French captured it back again in 1558.

Mr. DOMINIQUE DUPILET (Pas de Calais Regional Council): I can say that during three(ph) centuries our country was an English country.

BEARDSLEY: That's Dominique Dupilet, head of the Calais regional council. Along with the French tricolore flag, Dupilet now flies the union jack above his office building. Dupilet says that during the 2012 Olympic Games, the region of Calais will become a district of Inglaterra once again.

The Olympics are big business, with national teams spending millions of dollars on accommodations and training facilities for their athletes. On top of that, there's the revenue from the thousands of tourists attending the games. Dupilet wants a piece of that action, so the Calais regional council is spending more than $100 million to upgrade sporting facilities before the games, and Dupilet says plenty of teams have already signed up to train in them.

Mr. DUPILET: (Through translator) We have agreements with many French speaking African countries, with Kazakhstan, with Hungary, and a really big contract with China.

BEARDSLEY: Dupilet says the Chinese were attracted to Europe's biggest gymnastic training center, which will soon be completed. He says athletes and spectators will have no problems getting to the games. Calais is right next to the English Channel Tunnel and less than an hour from the Olympic site. The commute from Calais, says Dupilet, will be quicker than taking public transport through the London suburbs. But that's not all. Dupilet says spectators who decide to stay in Calais rather than England will have cheaper hotels, beautiful countryside, and of course better food. (French spoken) Olympic.

For NPR News, Im Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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