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The Olympics torch relay – the greatest sales job on Earth

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The Olympic Torch tour included the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
in County Antrim. 
Thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin this morning to see the Olympic torch and for the life of me I can't understand why. RTE, Ireland's national television station, is providing live coverage of the torch's procession through the streets of Dublin and, again, I can't understand why. I don't understand why anyone cares about the Olympic torch.

Okay, if I was a former Irish athlete I'd care. Many of of Ireland's ex-Olympians and former sports stars are carrying the torch. The torch tour affords them an opportunity to remind everyone in Ireland who they are. Also, I suppose if I was in charge of tourism I'd care because there's always the vague hope that the staged pictures of the torch in scenic locations will entice a tourist or two to visit the country.
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So I can understand why those few might care, but why are "thousands" reportedly out to see the torch? Why is there so much television and newspaper coverage?

It's no skin off my back, I suppose, although there is a cost to the public purse with the closed streets and gardaí (police) providing security for the event. Still, it's a torch, a flame. What is so exciting or interesting about that?

I'm at a total loss.

The the torch relay was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Games in Berlin. It was a propaganda tool. I'm surprised it has survived given its origins.

The Nazi roots don't really bother me, but the phoniness of the whole thing sticks in my craw. First of all, the flame goes out. Apparently that happens fairly regularly. It was extinguished on the third day of its tour of Britain last month. No problem because the organizers keep the "mother flame in specially designed miners' lanterns so if the flame does go out for some reason on the relay we re-light it from the source of the flame."

"Source of the flame?" "Mother flame?" Is this the mother of all contrivances or what? Gimme a break. If it goes out, just grab a lighter and light it again. But no, they keep "the mother flame" in a following van in "specially designed miners' lanterns." Puhleeeeze. I cringe in embarassment at anyone who takes this seriously and isn't being well compensated by the money-grubbing Olympic Committee.

That's another thing. Once upon a time the Olympics were not all about money. The games were infused with idealism and amateurism. Those days have passed. What the Olympic torch once stood for is no longer part of the Olympic Games.

These days amateurism is actively discouraged. This was demonstrated by the International Olympic Committee when it eliminated baseball from the Olympics because the Major Leagues would not release their players to take part. Idealism be damned. The IOC wants the world's best pro athletes and that's that.

As you might expect, the IOC is awash with cash. It's a two-week long marketing extravaganza. All those "Official candy bar (or whatever) of the London Olympics" bring in plenty. Then there are the tickets sales and television rights - NBC has paid $4bn for the rights to next four Olympics. Big money.

All of which brings me back to the torch run. The torch represents a one long advertisement for the Games. The torch is on a promotional tour, encouraging us to care, to watch when the games and - excepting us, thank God - softening up taxpayers who might object to the tens of billions of dollars of public money spent on building the venues and infrastructure needed to host the games.

The cynic in me applauds the IOC for the job they do selling the whole Olympics package, including the torch relay tour. It still functions well as a propaganda tool, only rather than promoting a the host state it now serves the Games themselves. I just don't understand why so many people care.

{Pictures thanks to TheJournal.ie and Olympic-Museum.de.}

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