Thoughts on Olympic Torch Symbolism

At this point, I’m sure everyone has seen or heard news about the Olympic torch relay being interrupted in both London and Paris. In London, a protester even came close to grabbing the torch away from the relay runner. Today, the BBC put up this interesting feature presenting the opinions of one of the London relay runners and of the executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, who plan to protest in San Francisco.

An excerpt from the relay runner’s side:

A peaceful protest on the sidelines – fine. But don’t try to stop the torch, because the torch is about more than the Beijing Olympics. It’s about the Olympic spirit and the importance of the Olympics in teaching youth, and teaching the world, what sport can do – how sport can bring people together, how it can overcome suffering, how it has overcome even wars in the past.

It’s a very powerful thing, and trying to stop the torch was trying to stop that message, so that was wrong.

The thing that made me laugh about this is not that I don’t think that’s a fine sentiment, but I had just finished listening to Frank Deford’s somewhat scathing comments on the Olympics on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the contrast with his opening part in particular was kind of funny:

There is something wonderfully ironic about the Olympic torch, which is making its journey about the world now rather as if it has a big “KICK ME” sign on it for China.

The torch relay was conjured up by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics and then embedded in our dreamy Olympic consciousness by the magnificent gossamer photography of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite moviemaker. Now, three-quarters of a century later, it has come back as an unexpected curse to haunt another totalitarian government to which the International Olympic Committee has hitched its wagon.

(Certainly no one really says that the Nazis weren’t good at symbolism.)

On a more serious note, though, I’m told that there is going to be a candlelight vigil for Tibet on my employing university’s campus tonight, walking through the middle of campus and ending at the chapel in the center. The (mainland) Chinese student population sent out an email to their listserv with the subject line, “Let’s go kick their asses,” with a message organizing their own gathering at the chapel the hour before the Tibet group is supposed to end up there. Completely non-violently, of course. It will be interesting to come to work tomorrow and find out how that all turned out.

I still find it kind of flabbergasting that the Olympic Committee ever thought giving the Games to Beijing was going to be a good, non-divisive choice.

-posted by Dana


3 Responses to Thoughts on Olympic Torch Symbolism

  1. jonolan says:

    My opinion is that it would be better for the Olympic Torch to be destroyed and its fire killed forever than for it to be desecrated by being sent to Beijing.

  2. Sonetka says:

    I’m curious as to when sport has overcome wars – unless the poster means unfriendly countries participating in the same sporting event, in which case “overcome” isn’t really the word I’d use.

    As for the Olympic committee, Beijing probably just offered the most substantial bribe; who knows, maybe they even thought they were being edgy and inclusive. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, though I’m more concerned that the actual athletes don’t get completely overshadowed by the iniquities of their hosting country than that the torch got extinguished.

  3. […] Torch Protest Follow-Up Well, I did indeed get to come to work today and find out how the planned pro-Tibet vigil and pro-China counter-protest turned out last night. Both the campus paper and the local paper reported on it. The basic […]

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