The Olympic Torch Relay intended to herald the onset of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, has taken a most bizarre turn, and this from the very beginning when the flame was lit in ancient Olympia, Greece, a few weeks ago.
The world has thus far witnessed some very stubborn and highly organised protests at every stage of the Torch Relay. Protestors in England rallied themselves and created havoc with one protestor actually reaching out and snatching the Olympic symbol of peace and unity out of the hands of one of the designated torchbearers. In France the flame of the Olympic Torch was extinguished several times and the projected activities cancelled in the face of headstrong protestations. In San Francisco, the anti-China protestors and pro-China supporters clashed in the streets in anticipation of the Torch relay. The organisers thought it best to play ‘hide and seek’ with the Olympic Torch, leaving both groupings wondering precisely where the symbol was at any point in time and the runners themselves being taken almost blindly to a totally different route. Even so, the extent of the protest continues to grow. One of the persons selected to carry the Torch in the San Francisco leg actually pulled out a banner in support of the Tibetan cause. He was summarily dismissed from taking any further part in the activities.
Thus far therefore the police have been more in evidence for their tremendously challenging task of protecting the Olympic Torch from getting into the hands of the protestors – who are yet to say what would be done with the treasured symbol should they be able to seize it – than in merely forming a sort of cordon along the route permitting the participants to go through the city streets unhindered and allow the millions of spectators to cheer the runners and enter into the spirit of the Olympic moment.
The Torch Relay has been thrown into a tailspin and the IOC is at its wits end trying not to appear to be reactive since its membership is very much aware that the initiative has been taken out of their hands. The international media has given far more importance to the fact that in San Francisco the Relay has attracted more riot police to man the streets than any other event other than an official visit by the President of the USA. The scuffles between pro and anti Chinese demonstrators on the streets have been given much more priority than the values attendant to the Olympics and the symbolism of the Relay.
The media interview clips of the IOC leadership now focus on the organisation’s response to the expanding protestations rather than on its readiness and that of the Chinese Organising Committee (BOCOG) for the pending Olympics. Indeed much of the world was kept in the dark about the proceedings of the General Assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) taking place in Beijing during the period 7 – 9 April and of the meeting between ANOC and the IOC Executive Board on the morning of 10 April 2008. Instead they were fed a daily diet of the travails of those protesting against the Olympic Games being held in China.
To some this year’s Olympic Torch Relay has become a farce; it has become a symbol, not of peace and unity in the world, but rather one of disenchantment.