Torch relay faces bumpy road

Olympic flames have criss-crossed Europe, climbed the Rocky Mountains and even skimmed over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Now Athens organizers intend to give the torch relay its first global journey with groundbreaking stops in Africa and South America. But the route, to be formally unveiled today, has some bumpy patches. Some cities have complained about demands by the 2004 hosts to display sponsors and select torchbearers. Some also feel Athens should help offset the costs. And the epic trip spanning more than two months – involving approximately 10,000 torchbearers through some 25 countries – could be the last of its kind. In June, an International Olympic Committee commission presented some 100 recommendations to contain the costs of organizing the Olympics, including limiting the torch relay to the host country. Athens organizers have said they will pay about 20 million euros (US$23.2 million) for the relay, with additional costs to be covered by sponsors. Athens 2004 officials and the torch relay coordinators, Boulder, Colorado-based ALEM International, would not comment before the formal presentation. ALEM organized the torch relay for the Atlanta and Salt Lake City Olympics. But many details of the route have been previously revealed or confirmed through national Olympic committees. The flame is expected to pass through all the former summer Olympic cities from Berlin, which first used the relay in 1936, to 2000 hosts Sydney. Beijing, site of the 2008 Games, is also included in the globe-trotting route that will end in Athens on August 13. In Egypt – in the first relay in Africa – the flame will pass the Pyramids, said Ismail Hamid, secretary-general of the Egypt Olympic Committee. The flame will be flown from South Africa to Brazil in its first South American visit. «Everyone is excited,» said Heloisa Costa, coordinator of the Brazilian torch relay. In New Delhi, it will tour major monuments, said Brig. N.B. Singh, administrator of the India Olympic Association. Beijing sees it as a chance to stir interest in the 2008 Games. But planning the relay in some former Olympic host countries hasn’t been as smooth. Finland – which hosted the 1952 Helsinki Games – is critical of demands by Athens organizers to advertise its sponsors and have a say on who would participate. Jouko Purontakanen, secretary-general of the Finland Olympic Committee, described the Greek requirements as «somewhat high, as if every former Olympic city had some terrible interest to arrange a torch relay in their cities on the terms dictated by Athens.» «We may well arrange it, but we aren’t going to foot the whole bill, and we want to be in on the planning and organizing of it.» Amsterdam’s planners complain Athens organizers have stipulated that relay sponsors will provide nearly half the torchbearers. «We would like to have good athletes which have performed very well in the past,» said Sjef Boon, project manager for the Olympic flame’s visit to Amsterdam. «It is very difficult.» Boon added that «lack of money is a problem» for Amsterdam. «We could do much more… if we got the help from Athens moneywise,» he said. Amsterdam lit the first flame for its 1928 Games. A flame also burned during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. The relay was introduced by Berlin in 1936. The Japan Olympic Committee also sought financial aid for their relay to Tokyo, host of the 1964 Summer Games. Koji Hosokura, a spokesman for the committee, said Athens organizers said «any financial assistance would be difficult.» He would not specify how much money had been requested, but said the cost of the Tokyo relay could reach 100 million yen (730,500 euros). «A request for financial help seemed appropriate considering it is an Olympic event,» he said.