Olympic torch relay bringing humanitarian issues to light

On 10 May 2012 the Olympic flame will be lit with a ceremony at the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia. The British born Greek swimming World Champion Spyros Gianniotis has been selected as the first torchbearer. sportanddev reflects on the history of the torch relay and how it has been used to bring humanitarian issues to light.
The Olympic torch lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia

The relay of peace – London 1948
In a Europe sorely afflicted by the war, the 1948 relay carried a welcome message of peace. The first runner, Corporal Dimitrelis, took off his military uniform before carrying the flame out of respect for the sacred truce observed in Ancient Greece. The planned route highlighted border crossings, where festivities were organised to celebrate the return of peace.

The “Down Under” relay – Sydney 2000
The relay had the goal to promote the culture and heritage of Australia and neighboring countries. The torch relay visited 12 Oceanic countries before it arrived in Australia. The start of the relay on the Australian continent was in the “red centre” at Uluru, a sacred site for the indigenous population. The aboriginal athlete Nova Peris-Kneebone, Olympic field hockey champion, was the first runner in the relay. One million spectators welcomed the arrival of the flame in Sydney. The indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman, the last torchbearer, lighted a circle of fire in the stadium. Her selection symbolised the contribution of indigenous communities to elite sport.

Visit the IOC website to download a study on torch relays

Athens 2004 – The relay of all cultures
The Athens 2004 Olympic torch relay made a world tour and embraced all cultures and all five continents. Its light sought to remind the world of the Olympic ideals such as participation, fraternity and peace. For the first time in history the Olympic torch relay brought the flame to Africa and Latin America. The torch relay’s trip around the world highlighted various humanitarian issues. In Cairo, a victim of an anti-personnel mine carried the flame. HIV-positive South African Musa Njoku was nominated by UNAIDS to participate in the torch relay in Cape Town. Nine years earlier, Musa was one of the first South African woman to publicly disclose her HIV status at a time when the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS could have resulted in physical harm and even death.

Beijing 2008 – torch relay and human rights protests
Activists protesting about China's human rights took advantage of the Beijing 2008 torch relay to raise awareness of their causes. In Istanbul, London, Paris, San Francisco, and New Delhi protesters chased torch bearers, attempted to extinguish the torch, and clashed with police, which resulted in dozens of arrests. The torch was guarded by 3,000 policemen in Paris, but it was extinguished several times and the designated route was cut short to prevent further aggression.
Related article: Olympic Games and human rights
Visit the infoplease website to find out more about the human rights claims in China 

London 2012 - International Inspiration participants to run with the torch
The Olympic Torch Relay will help shine a light on the whole of the UK – from dynamic urban areas to places of outstanding natural beauty. Torchbearers will carry the flame through more than 1,000 cities, towns and villages in the UK. Among the torch bearers, there will be twenty young people from London 2012's International Inspiration programme. One young person from each of the 20 International Inspiration countries has been selected as a torchbearer and will carry the flame in Nottinghamshire on 28 June.
Related Article: International Inspiration programme now reaches 20 countries

International Inspiration is bringing to life the promise made by the London 2012 bid team to reach young people all around the world and connect them to the power of the Games so they are inspired to choose sport.

Visit the London 2012 for more information on the London 2012 torch relay

History of the Olympic flame and torch relay

The Olympic Flame or Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics.

The fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. In contrast to the Olympic flame proper, the torch relay of modern times which transports the flame from Greece to the various designated sites of the games had no ancient precedent and was introduced by Carl Diem at the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Visit the VisitGreece website to find out more about the lighting of the flame in Greece

Visit the IOC website to find out more about the Olympic torch relay

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