PHILIP BARKER on London’s Olympics latest, significant announcement
Compared to the last time the Olympic flame was in London, the media scrum at the launch of the plans for the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay was tame indeed.
A group of gymnasts from Heathrow, clad from head to toe in gold lycra, produced a visual representation of the flame before Lord Coe and the new Minister for Sport introduced the scheme. “There’s been a massive interest in this,” said Lord Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic organising committee.
“Certainly over the last six months, we’re entering that phase of the project when our moments are very public moments, this is the way the project will continue to engage and excite people.”
The Olympic flame will arrive in Britain on May 18 2012 and 8,000 torchbearers will carry it during its 70-day journey to the Olympic Stadium. LOCOG will ask for nominations of suitable candidates and no doubt some journalists will follow in the footsteps of Archie McPherson, Ian Wooldridge, Alan Hubbard and Martyn Ziegler, who have all carried the flame in recent years.
The first torch will be lit in Ancient Olympia on a date yet to be confirmed.
The last time the flame came to London was in 2008, when it was dogged throughout by protests against human rights abuses in China. The Chinese authorities despatched those infamous “flame attendants”, and the confrontations which followed ensured the Olympic flame made headline news for days.
This time round, things will be different. “We don’t want towns to be locked down and I don’t think there will be any necessity for that,” Coe said. “It will engender excitement and passion and shine a light on all the extraordinary things that go on in a safe and secure environment.”
Although no details have yet been finalised, as a consequence of the 2008 experience, the IOC has decreed there will be no further international relays. In 2012, the flame will spend most of its time touring the United Kingdom, although it may yet also visit the Republic of Ireland, subject to ongoing discussions with the Olympic Council of Ireland.
Wherever it ends up, Coe will be hoping for a less fraught journey than his 1948 predecessors. One newspaper called it an “antiquarian sham”, while civil war erupted in Greece shortly before the flame was lit. Communist guerillas threatened it in Italy, it took a detour to avoid Germany and went out at least twice as soon as it arrived on British soil.
Having fielded questions all week since the Chancellor announced Exchequer spending cuts of £88 million this year from UK Sport, Sport England and the 2012 budget, Robertson stressed that while the Olympics could not be immune from further cuts, the Games were of utmost importance.
“It is the government’s single most important priority in 2012,” Robertson said. “We will not do anything that imperils the successful delivery of what I think is going to be the most fabulous opportunity for this country.”
SJA committee member Philip Barker was a torch bearer at the 1996 Olympics