One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.

~ Jane Austen (1775 - 1817), Emma ~

Sinister Start To Olympic Torch Relay

April 23rd, 2014 ~ Est. reading time: 1 min, 20 secs

Some symbols don't deserve our respect.

Some symbols don’t deserve our respect.

Who hasn’t been inspired by the sight of the Olympic torch run? Fused with a sense of ceremony and athletic enterprise, people the world over are stirred by this ancient Olympic tradition.

Except that its origins have nowhere near such a noble pedigree. In fact, what seems so expressive of the spirit of the Games was none other than a Nazi fabrication, designed as a propaganda tool to show the might and majesty of the Third Reich.

Back in Berlin in 1936, Hitler and his cronies hatched the idea of having young Aryan athletes carry a torch bearing the Olympic flame from Greece to Berlin. By drawing on a potent symbol of ancient civilization they wanted to create an aura of culture and heroism around Germany under Nazism.

So the same leadership that set about exterminating millions and plunging Europe into a devastating war concocted the Olympic torch relay as a device to win folk over.

Obviously, this clever bit of showmanship worked. So well in fact that every modern Olympics since has been keen to promote the torch relay as a symbol of hope, achievement, and belief in the Olympic ideal.

So what is the take home message of this odd artifact? Given its origins, should we be cynical about the intentions of modern Games hosts promoting the torch relay? Or, should we simply try and forget this uncomfortable fact and enjoy it in its modern context?

Myself, I rather like what the relay can symbolize because the Olympics itself is undeniably an inspiring event. Yet, it concerns me that there has been a lack of transparency about the origins of this aspect. Surely, it’s time we knew and considered its merits so that the events we celebrate have a genuine dignity to them, rather than an inheritance of propaganda. But what do you think?

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