The flame and the ashes

Firm in our unshakable belief that we are the owners and guardians of athletic ideals and that we still lend our light to humanity, once again we have set the stage for the lighting of the Olympic Flame, which this time is off to Beijing. Even if we set aside any annoying thoughts this ceremony may create (not of course in the minds of those marketing the ceremony), which have to do with the association with Hitler’s Germany in 1936, many other questions remain unanswered, particularly those relating to the sender and the recipient of the flame. First of all the sender, that is, we who are such well-organized guardians of antiquity and have such deep respect for an important part of ecumenical heritage that we allowed the ancient Hill of Cronus at Olympia and the Olympic Museum to be endangered by fire. We are so proud that we are now once again handing on the flame, according to the values that are supposed to be so deeply ingrained in our minds and which supposedly govern our every move. Yet we, the self-aggrandized heirs of this tradition, can’t even organize a basketball cup final (for example, today’s between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos) without filling the venue with countless police officers to control the few fans who will be allowed to enter. Then there is the recipient, China, the boundless empire with restricted individual liberties, suppressed human rights, the death sentence, political prisoners, thousands of people removed from their homes in order to set the stage for the Olympic Games, and that other flame, that of freedom, extinguished in Tibet. What do we do about that? We ban Tibetan activists from entering Ancient Olympia because of the «fire risk» and because «the Olympics have nothing to do with politics.» Honestly, when was that ever true?

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