All about the Phryges, Paris’s 2024 Olympic mascots

The mascots of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France are the Phryges (les Phryges).

Based on the Phrygian cap (le bonnet phrygien), an iconic symbol of freedom and the French Republic, these mascots are revolutionary in a few ways, and have already caused some (funny) controversy.

Let’s take a closer look at the Phryges.

Who is the mascot of the 2024 Olympic Games?

As announced on November 14, 2022, the mascots of the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris, are the Phryges.

The Phryges are characters based on the Phrygian cap (I’ll explain what this is a little later in this article).

There seem to be a lot of Phryges (their fun official presentation video features a whole crowd of them). But there are two who lead the group. The Olympic Phryge has two legs and feet, and the Paralympic Phryge has one leg and a prosthetic running blade.

What are the Phryges supposed to be?

A crowd of tourists stands in front of Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", in the Louvre.
Marianne in Eugène Delacroix’s famous painting “Liberty leading the People”. Notice the red Phrygian cap on her head, typical of most representations of Marianne.

“Phryges” is a fun word that’s derived from bonnet phrygien (Phrygian cap). This is a red cloth hat that was worn in ancient times by the Phrygians and other ancient peoples who lived in the area around modern-day Turkey.

The origins of the Phrygian cap as a symbol of freedom are a bit murky. It seems that in more modern times, it was confused with the pileus, a cloth cap given to freed slaves in Ancient Rome.  

Regardless of the confusion, for Revolutionaries at the end of the 18th century, it was the perfect headgear. The Phrygian bonnet was worn throughout the first French Revolution and the Terror. Even when fashions and politics changed, it continued to be an easily recognizable symbol of freedom and the French Republic.

In fact, you’ve probably seen a bonnet phrygien without realizing it: Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic (the rough equivalent of Uncle Sam and John Bull) is usually depicted wearing one.

What do the 2024 Paris Olympic mascots look like?

Unfortunately, because of copyright reasons, we can’t feature a picture of the Phryges on our site. Even French Wikipedia has had problems with this!

But you can see images of the Phryges on the page dedicated to them on the official site of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Why were the Phryges chosen as Paris’s Olympic mascots?

Here’s what Tony Estanguet, president of the 2024 Paris Olympics, had to say about why the Phryges were chosen as mascots:

We chose an ideal rather than an animal…We chose the Phrygian cap because it’s a very strong symbol for the French Republic. For French people, it’s a very well-known object that is a symbol of freedom, an object that will represent mascots all across the world. The fact that the Paralympics mascot has a visible disability also sends a strong message: to promote inclusion.

So, the Phryges are a symbol of freedom and inclusion – pretty great values, if you ask me!

What do the Phryges symbolize?

View from ground level of people jogging at sunset. Their backs are to us, running from the direction of the camera.

Fellow Francophiles and history lovers could simply see les Phryges as a cool homage to a famous symbol of France and French history. But according to the Phryges’ official site, in addition to promoting values of freedom and inclusion, these little guys have another mission: to create a revolution by making exercise more common in France.

This may seem surprising, since the French are generally known as thin, healthy eaters. But while they may have a healthy lifestyle in some ways, a 2021 Ipsos survey reveals that France is one of the top 5 countries where people do sports the least. According to the survey, nearly a quarter of people in France say they do no exercise in a typical week.

You could take this with a grain of salt, since the French population has one of the longest lifespans; would a nonagenarian be expected to do sports on a regular basis? But there are countries where elderly people are encouraged to do at least light physical activity and movement, so that’s something to consider, too.

Do the French like their Olympic mascots?

According to this press release, an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on November 14 and 15, 2022, found that 75% of French adults like the choice of the Phryges as their Olympic mascot.

Among children and teens, les Phryges are even more popular, with an 83% approval rating.

Is there any controversy around les Phryges?

Nowadays, just about anything can cause controversy, and I’m sure there are probably little pockets on the internet and in the real world where people are unhappy about France’s choice of Olympic mascot for one reason or another. But at least two controversies related to the Phryges have been covered in the press.

The first controversy is due to the fact that many French people are upset that only 8% of Phryges merchandise will be produced in France (the rest will be outsourced to China). Not only is there an economic issue; some also cite the pollution that producing Phryges merchandise will generate. Both of these complaints are very typical of the French public, especially the outcry over environmental practices.

While these concerns are valid, another Phryges-related controversy has stolen the spotlight — and has even been featured in major international press outlets like The Guardian.

The controversy?  Well, for many people, les Phryges look like cartoon versions of a clitoris.

This is probably not what the mascots’ designers intended, and in fact, when you look at the plush versions of les Phryges, the ear flaps of the Phrygian cap are shorter, so that it looks more like just a bonnet phrygien – it’s really only the drawings that might be questionable, since the flaps are longer.

…Of course, most people are going to be seeing the drawings, rather than the plush toys.

Most of the press, and people in general, have reacted to this  issue with amusement. And for some, including French experts on women’s health interviewed in The Guardian, the controversy is actually an amazing sign of progress.

A few years ago, they point out, most people wouldn’t have been able to describe or identify a clitoris, and now, things have obviously changed….

That said, this anatomical resemblance isn’t referenced in any way in any official press material or communications about the Phryges, and there doesn’t seem to be any sexual or other sort of undertone to them – they just look like cheerful living versions of Phrygian caps…who might also resemble something else, to some people.

When are the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympic Games?

View of the Eiffel Tower and surrounding buildings, as well as trees in summer bloom, beneath a partly cloudy blue sky.

The 2024 Summer Olympics will take place in Paris, France, from July 26-August 11, 2024.

The 2024 Summer Paralympic Games will take place in Paris from August 28-September 8, 2024.

Where can I learn more about the Phryges?

You can learn more about the Phryges on their very informative official site.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Paris’s official 2024 Olympic mascots. What do you think of the Phryges? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.