Propaganda, politics and censorship - The Olympic Torch Relay since 1936

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 6 April 2008

Today the Olympic flame will be passing through London, and we will almost certainly see some form of protest about China's treatment of Tibet. And importantly, we will almost certainly see it in the media.

This was not the case in Greece, where the state-run media tried its hardest to suppress any images or reporting of protests that took place on the flame's five day trip around the country. State television only showed the protest at the lighting ceremony after footage from world news organisations made its way back to Greece.

The disruption to Greek plans continued in Thessaloniki, and the last leg of the journey in Athens shortened and the route diverted to prevent possible protest. Not that you'll find that mentioned on ERT either.

Greece did a shameful job of sticking to the official Chinese line that all is well with the world, and that anyone using the passage of the flame as an opportunity to protest is tarnishing the Olympic ideal. I think we can all draw our own conclusions about what tarnishes the Olympic ideal more. As one contributor to the Athens News wrote:

"I am not sure if this is a case of self-censorship and embarrassment, or of fear of insulting China. However, I do know this is bad for both the press and the public, who relies on it for information. How can the medai in Greece be so scared as to not fully cover this story? In my opinion the Greek media dropped the ball and acted similar to the old Russian Soviet ways when Pravda provided official news stories."

Paris, by contrast, is promising to welcome the torch with a peaceful official protest and a banner declaring French support for human rights for all.

With events like the Olympic Torch relay, you can see how Olympic budgets get out of hand. The entire relay has its own website from the Chinese Olympic Organisers, and London also has its own Olympic Torch Relay minisite on the london.gov.uk site. And also at Visit London. And also on the British Embassy site in China.

London's Torch Relay minisite

Looking at the final Chinese leg of the relay, it seems that the process of selecting who gets to run with the flame has been a case of bureaucracy gone mad, with quotients for local residents, local officials, and the nieces of Olympic officials.

Chinese relay particpant statistics

The day after the London torch relay, the flame passes to Paris. I'm unsure how it will get there. Last time I flew out of London, you couldn't get so much as a nail-file onto a plane, let alone a flippin' great big aluminum pole full of fuel with a naked flame on top of it.

2008 Torch Relay Logo and torch

The Olympic Torch relay has a recent history of being the backdrop to political protest. In 2006 the Torino flame was dogged by protest groups complaining about sponsorship from Coca-Cola.

It seems kind of fitting, as the original Olympic Torch relay was in itself a political device. Although the 1928 Amsterdam and the sparsely-attended 1932 Los Angeles games had featured Olympic flames in their stadiums, it was the 1936 Berlin games where the flame was first lit in Greece and then carried to the stadium. Once there, the lighting of the Olympic flames was done against a backdrop of Nazi flags.

The 1936 Berlin Olympic Torch relay

The 1936 Berlin Olympic flame

Fancy that, eh? A totalitarian regime using the Olympic Games as a propaganda exercise. Thankfully the Olympic Committee awarding the games never made that mistake again...

3 Comments

It is pretty shameful to see the police in every country uses violent forces to crack down and arrest the protesters. Why not let them rob the f*** torch? Where are Human Rights and freedom for these separationists/terrorists in these free countries? LOL.

At least we now know that the crushers of dissent in Tibet were responsible for the security in London.

I felt nauseated.

It is interesting to see how the media here tries its hardest to fully cover what we want to see and what those people at the top wish us to see

Keep up to date on my new blog