Changing China

Giant on the move

Where next for the torch?

May 19, 2008

The national flag in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square flies at half mast in memory of those who died in the massive earthquakePreparations for the Beijing Olympics have understandably taken a back seat to the tragedy in Sichuan.

On Sunday, it was announced that the torch relay would be suspended from Monday to Wednesday to mark three days of national mourning.

The question officials at the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) returned to wrestling with after observing the three-minute silence at 2.28pm today is what should happen when it restarts?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the torch was scheduled to visit Shanghai. Can a torch relay that is supposed to visit all of China’s provinces really skip the country’s financial capital (and venue for several Olympic soccer matches)? Will Sichuan, and most particularly the city of Mianyang, really be ready to host the flame in mid-June?     

Some in China have said that it should not resume at all, despite the fund-raising for the victims that has taken place along the route since the earthquake. 

A former deputy editor of the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily suggested last week in Caijing Magazine that when the worst of the destruction was cleared, the torch should be taken to the epicentre of the 7.9 magnitude quake and relayed from there to Beijing.

“Continuing the high profile torch relay must take a large quantity of resources and attention of people, which does not match 
either the need of concentrating on disaster relief, or the deep grief at losing our compatriots,” wrote Huangpu Ping.

However, the opening seven words of Sunday’s BOCOG statement announcing the three-day suspension – ”after consulting with the International Olympic Committee” – are instructive when considering how much change will be possible.     

One constantly heard complaint when the IOC met in Beijing as protests were disrupting the torch relay in Europe was that the torch belonged to the Olympic movement, not to China.

I, for one, will be expecting the route to be kept pretty much intact with the schedule shifted back by three days and the only serious change coming in Sichuan itself.

Picture by David Gray 




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