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#2 - Road to Paris Squash 2024

Focus on the venue, the Cirque d'hiver Bouglione.

After the Palais de Tokyo a little less than a year ago, the Internationaux de France de Squash will be taking residence in another iconic venue of Paris. It’ll be from September 15 to 21 at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione and the show promises to be spectacular. Here is a guided tour...

The main entrance to the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione is located on rue Amelot, but it was through the "service door" that we entered on Thursday, June 20, with the organizers of the Paris Squash 2024, for a scouting of the premises. Everyone we came across called them by their first names, so obviously this was not their first visit and the preparation had started for months ... “The first contact we made with the owners was through an email I sent them in June 2023,” recalls tournament director Philippe Signoret. “I did not mention it straight away to the other team members because I wanted to have something concrete, and with the Olympic and Paralympic Games we knew it wouldn’t be easy to secure a location. I got in touch with the Cirque d’Hiver again a little later, it turned out they had kept the dates for us!” 

Located in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, the Cirque d’Hiver-Bouglione is the oldest operating circus in the world (Photo credit: Paris Squash Project)

The Cirque d'Hiver is plainly and simply the oldest circus in the world still in operation, and has been classified as a historic monument since 1975. You can clearly notice the richness of its history when you go through its nooks and crannies, especially with the numerous posters. On October 28, 1934, it was taken over by the Bouglione brothers, who paid cash in gold coins... While circus arts have always been at the heart of its activities, they have diversified over the years with shows of all kinds including concerts, political meetings and sports. Squash made its first appearance in 1983 with the Internationaux de France, won by the Pakistani world number 1 Jahangir Khan. “I remember it very well,” said Philippe Signoret, who was barely 19 at the time and was on the doorstep of the national top 10. Interestingly, it was the first time white balls were used. “But I have to confess that I didn’t remember there was another tournament there in 1996.”

The Cirque d’Hiver has hosted two squash tournaments in the past, in 1983 and 1996 (Photo credit: Paris Squash Project)

When we enter the empty arena, we can’t help thinking that the atmosphere could be exceptional once the stands are full in mid-September. Especially since the Cirque d'Hiver has two attractive features: proximity to the stage - “1600 seats, the furthest only 20 meters away, which make it a unique venue in Paris,” confides its business manager Thierry Bouglione - and a grandstand with a 360 degree view of the court, which is also unique in the world of squash. “For the semi-finals and finals, almost all the seats behind the court have already been sold,” says Philippe Signoret. “People may think that the visibility won’t be as good from other positions, on the contrary I think there will be unusual and very interesting angles. There are many more seats than at the Palais de Tokyo, filling the stands every day is a real challenge.”

At the Cirque d’Hiver, seats are not only very close to the arena but also with a 360 degree view (Photo credit: Paris Squash Project)

“Compared to last year we will be able to offer better conditions to the spectators as well as the VIP, which is good because it was one of our top priorities as far as improvements go,” confides Philippe Signoret. “Obviously, there are still plenty of things to arrange and finalize, we will have some work to do in the coming weeks.” One example among others: the dimensions of the squash court being slightly too large, a platform will need to be set on the existing stage. “Andrew Shelley (editor's note: former World Squash Federation Chief Executive, among other positions) reminded me that this was already the case in 1983, and that the Bouglione family had agreed to saw off certain parts,” smiles Philippe Signoret. Parallels are often drawn between art and sport: the Paris Squash 2024 participants will prepare for their matches in the performer dressing rooms. “We’ll be in the heart of Paris, with the hotel at walking distance, I think the players are going to love it.” So are we …

Let's meet with… Thierry Bouglione

The Cirque d’Hiver is a typical example of a family business, and the Bouglione name can be found throughout the entire organization chart. Among its members, there is its business manager Thierry. 

“Here, the hardest thing is not to make a name but a first name for yourself,” smiles the sixty-four year-old. When asked if they constantly feel the weight of history, he says “not really. On the other hand, there is a certain standard of quality regarding the shows that are on at the Cirque d’Hiver.” One of them will be the Paris Squash 2024 from September 15 to 21. “We have already hosted a lot of sporting events,” he explains. “Mainly fighting sports such as wrestling, boxing etc., but also basketball with Tony Parker. As for me, I played water polo and football in my youth, then I turned to circus arts. They say that in circus you start your career very young and end it very old because over the years you turn towards more administrative tasks, it's a bit like our nursing home (he laughs).” 

Thierry Bouglione (on the right) with the Paris Squash Project team (Photo credit: Paris Squash Project)

As its name suggests, at the Cirque d'Hiver the season lasts from October to March, and it will therefore welcome the squash gladiators just before its core activities resume. “I remember one of the two squash tournaments that took place here,” confides Thierry Bouglione. “We are welcoming them back with open arms, they are very nice people with a great mentality. Will I attend the event? Obviously, I want to make sure they don’t break everything (he laughs!”

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