IOC questions value of int'l Olympic torch relay route

After chaos in Paris on Monday, IOC officials said international section of the run could be dropped from future games.

Olympic torch  (photo credit: )
Olympic torch
(photo credit: )
Widespread disruptions of the Olympic torch relay because of protests against China may mean the international section of the run could be dropped from future games, IOC officials said Tuesday. Thousands of raucous protesters angry about China's hosting of the Olympics Games, its policies in Tibet and human rights record haunted the torch relay across the British and French capitals this week. More problems were expected Wednesday in San Francisco, the only North American leg of the relay. China has denounced the protests in London and Paris as despicable, but vowed Tuesday to continue the relay to the end. The concept of an international relay began with the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and has now expanded to 21 cities outside mainland China for the Beijing Olympics. Kevan Gosper, an International Olympic Committee member from Australia, said he had always opposed such an extensive international route. "The decision was made," Gosper said. "I think events in Tibet have of course stirred the potential for protest. I'm a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch simply should go from Olympia, Greece, to the host country." "I would expect that the Olympic committee will review that template," Gosper added. The IOC is holding its last official meetings in the Chinese capital this week with organizers of the Beijing games. Gosper said IOC officials had warned their Chinese colleagues that London, Paris and San Francisco "would be sensitive places." IOC member Alex Gilady of Israel said the committee had discussed ending the international relay after Beijing and that it would likely come up again. "This will be a discussion again," Gilady said. "Not now, but after the games." Swedish IOC member Gunilla Lindberg said the protests surrounding the torch relay were "damaging the Olympic movement." "I think it is very sad. I get angry," Lindberg said. "Using the torch this way is almost a crime. This is the property of the IOC, it is not a Chinese torch." Gosper agreed. "All I can say is we are desperately disappointed," he said. The torch relay has turned into a public relations disaster for the IOC and China's communist government, which had hoped the August games would showcase an open, modern country. On Monday, organizers were forced to cancel the last third of the Paris route after demonstrators hurled water at the flame and lunged at torchbearers. The security detail protecting the torch had to repeatedly extinguish it along the route and retreat to the safety of a bus, although the Olympic flame continually burns in a lantern brought along the route. China's Foreign Ministry blamed the disruptions on groups seeking to split the far western region of Tibet from the rest of China. Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee, said the relay was "sabotaged" by Tibetan separatists and called the demonstrations "blasphemy" against the Olympic spirit. "This demonstrates the true nature of a handful of Tibetan separatists and I think we see more clearly than ever before what they are up to," Sun said. "They are not what they claim to be, peaceful demonstrators." Sun said the relay would continue to the end. The torch was set to return to mainland China on May 4, tour the country then return to Beijing Aug. 6. The cauldron lighting was scheduled to take place Aug. 8 in Beijing's new 91,000-seat national stadium. "No force can stop the torch relay of the Olympic Games," Sun added. "We are confident the torch relay of the Beijing Olympic Games will succeed." Asked if other groups opposed to Chinese policies were involved in the protests, Sun declined to answer. He also did not say if Beijing organizers respected the right of freedom of speech and assembly in France and Britain.