For 34 years, starting in 1981, Le Mondial de Millau was one of the most important petanque competitions (perhaps THE most important competition) in France and in the world, attracting the world’s top pétanque players. Unlike Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque which is only a triples event, Millau held open singles, doubles, and triples competitions for both men and women, as well as a mixed triples competition. It was a 5-day pétanque festival that attracted 15,000 spectators (or 50,000, depending on who you ask) and 5,000 players. It was supported by an army of 400-500 volunteers. While it was being played in mid-August, it was impossible to find an un-booked hotel room within 80 kilometers of Millau.
The event was hugely profitable for the city— the Millau tourist office estimated the economic benefits to the city at around €2.5 million. But the size of the event also caused disruptions to the lives of residents. Traffic became a problem, and cars and huge motor homes were parked everywhere, in spots both legal and illegal. (In 2015 the local police department issued over 500 parking tickets to vistors to the event.) Residents living near La Victoire Park, the location of the event, couldn’t find parking close to their own homes.
Matters came to a boil after the 34th Mondial, on August 26, 2015. There was a meeting at the sub-prefecture office, attended by the competition sponsor, Millau Pétanque Promotion (MPP) (represented by its four co-presidents— Claude Lacan, Claude Bonneviale, Bernard Rouquayrol and Jean-Pierre Mas), the mayor of Millau (Christophe Saint-Pierre), the sub-prefect of Millau (Bernard Breyton) and the police commander.
The mayor noted the complaints by residents. He noted the cost to the city of supporting the event: about €100,000 out of an annual budget of €600,000. And he requested that the MPP start taking responsibility for managing the parking and traffic issues associated with the event.
That theme was continued by the sub-prefect, who asked the MPP to be aware of the problems that the event was causing for local resident, and to comply with the local parking and traffic ordinances. The MPP co-chairs admitted that they had never read the municipal ordinances governing such subjects. The sub-prefect expressed the opinion that the event organizers clearly hadn’t given much thought to these issues, that that was damaging for the city of Millau, and was not acceptable. (On September 19 the prefecture of Aveyron issed an official position statement, supporting the city and noting that the “anarchic” parking of vehicles around the event hindered access of security personnel and emergency response vehicles trying to get to La Victoire Park.)
The mayor then went on to outline specific proposals for dealing with the issues that had been raised. The city, he said, appreciated the importance of the work done by the many volunteers, and the need for the volunteers to be able to park their vehicles near La Victoire Park. He proposed that during the event volunteers could park at the Crés school and that the city could also allocate to the volunteers all or part of the parking lot of la Menuiserie. On the delicate question of motorhomes (specifically for travelers who settle everywhere, particularly along the Boulevard Jean Gabriac, a site where family gardens had been vandalized) the mayor proposed using the parking at la Sernam as a supplemental reception area. “I also asked the neighborhoods (collectivités) to make an inventory of potentially usable reception areas on the outskirts of the city to organize the competitors parking.” He proposed that MPP should be in charge of shuttles running between La Victoire Park and the parking areas on the outskirts of the city, and also installation of signs (created by the city) directing motorists to the event parking locations. And he proposed that MPP organize pre-registrations for the event on their website. “By having early contact with the players, MPP could inform and direct them to a particular parking area. They already do this at Espalion and the Marseillaise. I don’t see why we can’t do it at the Mondial. In other big local events, it already works like that.” [See the mayor’s position paper.] In closing, the mayor promised to work with the MPP and the various municipal services to refine these proposals, with the goal of working out an arrangement that would be comfortable for both the competition and the residents. And he specifically noted that the city was committed to continuing support for the Mondial in the future.
The mayor and the sub-prefect may or may not have been very tactful in stating their concerns and proposals. In any event the MPP co-chairs came away from the meeting angry, feeling that they had been verbally assaulted (“We were even accused of not being able to read”), and with a strong feeling that the mayor, the sub-prefect and the police commander were all hostile to the Mondial.
On Wednesday, September 9, 2015, the four co-presidents of the MPP announced that they had decided that there would be no 35th Mondial de Millau. They had decided to kill the Mondial de Millau. The spokesman for the group, Jean-Pierre Mas (son of the event’s original founder, Damien Mas) said Nous sommes dans l’incapacité de poursuivre l’organisation du Mondial car les conditions ne sont plus réunies pour cela… (“We are unable to continue organization of the Mondial because we can no longer meet the conditions for it.”) “The positions of the sub-prefect and especially the police commander are incompatible with pursuing the Mondial. We will never be able to comply with what the sub-prefect asks us. Traffic and flow of visitors outside La Victoire Park must not be our responsibility.” Later he was quoted as saying L’ordre public ne relève pas de notre compétence. (“Public order is not our business.”)
Social media immediately erupted with a firestorm of criticism of the mayor for killing the Mondial.
In response the mayor pointed out that it was the MPP, not he, who had decided to kill the Mondial, and he characterized the MPP’s decision as “regrettable”, “hasty” and “disproportionate”. “I never questioned the competition as such. What I said was that because of the success of the event, there were elements of the way that participants are welcomed that needed to be managed, especially around La Victoire Park, to ensure normal living conditions for the residents. There was no attack on my part [on the Mondial]. On the contrary, I am defending it … but I also have the right to say what is wrong.”
The four co-chairs of the MPP remained committed to their decision. The Mondial was dead. End of story.
A few months after the Mondial was cancelled, a new group was organized to create a replacement for it. The Association de Gestion Sportive Millavoise (AGSM) was created in order to host a Festival International de Pétanque Évenement de Millau (FIPEM)(www.petanquemillau.com). In 2016, only 500 players participated in the festival. The festival acquired new organizers, who managed to recruit more volunteers and to partner with a local petanque club, Pétanque Club Joyeuse Millau. When the second Festival was held in August 2017, most of the competitions were limited to 512 teams, which (for triples) means a total participation of about 1500 players. (I don’t have the actual participation numbers.)
The new festival has adopted the city’s proposals for traffic and parking management. “Free shuttles will run between La Victoire Park and the free car parks which will be at your disposal a few minutes from La Victoire Park. No parking will be tolerated near the entrance of the Park.”