Olympic Torch

Protesters building steam in S.F.

On the day before the Olympic torch was to be carried along the citys waterfront, hundreds of protesters took to the streets today to rally support for freedom in Tibet and to decry the Peoples Republic of China rule there.

Dove being released at Free Tibet demonstration in San FranciscoThe roving demonstration moved from United Nations Plaza to City Hall to the Chinese Consulate at Geary Boulevard and Laguna Street in the Western Addition. The consulate building was protected by dozens of San Francisco police officers.

The protesters remained peaceful throughout the day, waving the colorful Tibetan flag, singing the Tibetan national anthem and chanting slogans denouncing China. They watched the lighting of the Tibetan Freedom Torch and cheered as caged white doves were released into the sky.

The gathering was timed to coincide with the appearance of the Olympic Torch, which is scheduled to make its only North American appearance in San Francisco Wednesday as part of a five-continent relay leading up to the Summer Games in Beijing.

“This is not about disrupting the torch-bearers. This is about China using the torch for political purposes and we using it right back,” Lhadon Tethong, executive director if Students for a Free Tibet, said through a bullhorn in front of the Chinese Consulate.

Protesters, upset with Chinas policies in Tibet, Sudan and with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, have disrupted the relay in Athens, London and Paris. San Francisco officials also are bracing for demonstrations by China critics and counterdemonstrations by pro-China supporters.

Previous posts on this blog illustrate what I feel the athletes should do when it comes to the Beijing Olympics, but all of the news about the protests surrounding the torch made me wonder how the whole torch carrying thing came about.

So I do what many people do when confronted with one of those odd questions … what is the history of the Olympic Torch relay?

Well … according to a 2004 article in the New York Times, the torch relay was introduced by none other than Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, as part of his Nazi propaganda machine.

According to the London Times:

The torch relay is a celebration of the ancient fires that burnt through the original Olympiads but the idea of carrying the flame from Olympia to the host city each year was invented by the organisers of the 1936 Berlin Games.

The relay, captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s film, “Olympia”, was part of the Nazi propaganda machine’s attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.

Surprisingly, the use of the Olympic rings, originally adopted as a symbol of the Games at the 1914 Olympic Congress prior to the cancelled 1916 Olympic Games, were also widely promoted by Riefenstuhl’s film (when she had the rings carved in stone at Delphi).

Joy.

Perhaps it’s a good idea that the torch was extinguished not once, but twice by the French, and the American leg of the journey tomorrow (Wednesday) in San Francisco may actually be cancelled because of the protests.

It certainly seems fitting that the Chinese government has promoted the this year’s relay as a Journey of Harmony … but it’s too bad their harmonic convergence seems to be more in line with with the powers of oppression and genocide, rather than truly of peace.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for doing the legwork and looking up that bit of history. I’m always so torn about the Olympics. It really should be a time that we pay attention to the incredible skills and hard work of these individual athletes, but instead it becomes a rallying point for prideful nationalistic competition. I understand how this happens, but I still always end up feeling bad for the people competing — many of whom will only be able to be there this once because the Games are every 4 years and this is the only time their bodies will be in this condition.

    That said, you (and others) are right to pay attention to the meanings behind the symbolism. In this case the meanings are cause both for supporting the Olympics & the torch run (e.g., the belief that people from around the world can meet on common ground and compete) and for protesting (e.g., the recognition that China will be featured on the world stage in a bright shiny way despite the human rights abuses happening in the name of the government).

    I was reminded yesterday that one of the arguments for having China as a host was to shine a spotlight on their internal policies in the hopes that it would accelerate their efforts to correct their policies. The spotlighting is certainly in full force…

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