French Air Force did not 'mistakenly draw Russian flag' in the sky at Olympic torch ceremony

Official footage of an aerial acrobatic display during the Olympic flame ceremony in France shows jets drawing the French flag in coloured smoke and not mistakenly painting the Russian flag, contrary to Chinese social media posts that accused the pilots of making the gaffe. The posts shared a video of the display that was shot from such an angle that the colours appeared in the wrong order. However, a livestream and photos of the event show the jets formed the French flag.

"Outrageous blunder. The French Air Force turned the French flag into the Russian flag," read the simplified Chinese caption of a Weibo post shared on May 9, 2024.

"Macron must be displeased. France, after all, is determined to stand with Ukraine."

The accompanying video, which racked up more than 60,000 views, shows a squadron of jets releasing red, white and blue coloured trails of smoke into the air.

<span>Screenshot of the misleading Weibo post, taken on May 16, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the misleading Weibo post, taken on May 16, 2024

The Olympic flame arrived on French soil in the southern port city of Marseille on May 8 ahead of the 2024 Paris Games.

As the flame entered Marseille's Vieux-Port aboard a 19th-century ship in front of 150,000 spectators, the Patrouille de France elite acrobatic flying team traced the Olympic rings in the sky before they returned to paint the blue, white and red of the French flag.

But the misleading claim that the pilots accidentally painted the Russian flag ricocheted across social media posts in FrenchEnglish, GreekGerman and Russian, and on a string of platforms including X, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

In fact, footage from the Olympic Committee confirmed the jets released smoke trails representing the French flag. The misleading video was filmed from such an angle that the colours appear to be in the wrong order.

Visual discrepancy

The Olympic Committee's YouTube livestream of the ceremony showed the aerial display at the 19-minute and 38-second mark (archived link).

The video shows eight planes releasing coloured streams in blue, white and red.

The narrator says: "So after the Olympic rings, now the colours of the French tricolore", referring to France's national flag.

<span>Screenshot of the video released by the Olympic Committee on May 9, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the video released by the Olympic Committee on May 9, 2024

President Emmanuel Macron also posted a video of the flag formation on his official X account (archived link).

<span>Screenshot of Macron's video posted on X</span>
Screenshot of Macron's video posted on X

German Press Agency (dpa) pointed out that the misleading video was filmed from the Frioul Islands, a few kilometres off the coast of Marseille (here and here).

The footage from this angle shows a side view of the jets, which makes it appear as if the jets drew the Russian flag.

AFP photos show the jets in the middle of the squadron that released the white smoke were in fact flying slightly higher than the other jets.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the misleading video (left) and an AFP photo taken from directly under the flight path (right), showing the colours correctly correspond to the French tricolore:

<span>Screenshot comparison of the misleading video (left) and an AFP photo (right)</span>
Screenshot comparison of the misleading video (left) and an AFP photo (right)