Free the Olympic torchbearers!

December 16, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 12/16/2009 Torchbearers

Somewhere deep inside a frozen mountain near Whistler, B.C., lays a list hidden in a dark cave guarded by heavily-armed figure skaters and other lugers.

It’s not just any list. In fact, it’s The List. And the paranoid people running Canada’s Olympic celebration don’t want you to see it.

The List is a matter of the highest level of national security. And if it fell into the wrong hands, I don’t even dream about what might happen. The List, of course, contains the 12,000 names of people who have been chosen to carry the Olympic torch as it zig-zags its way across our frozen country.

Each one of these people will carry the torch 300 metres and light the oversized cigarette lighter held by the next person waiting in line. And they will do it wearing a fancy snowsuit that must be worn exactly to spec.

About half of these torchbearers are regular Canadians who got there by writing essays and winning other contests. A good chunk are appointed by corporate sponsors, namely Coca-Cola and the Royal Bank of Canada. The Vancouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC, controls the rest – they’ll be handed out to partners, sponsors and suppliers to dole out as treats for their employees.

Recently, I was assigned to fetch the complete list and run it in the local paper. We wanted to celebrate these lucky few who will carry the torch through the local community. Easy task, no?

But alas, The List is top secret. In a policy apparently designed by Canada’s intelligence agency CSIS, the Olympic folks have decided they will not release the list of torchbearers until 48 hours before they run.

It’s a matter of privacy, we’re told. Of course. Because if running a flaming torch down a crowded city street with police escorts and cameras rolling isn’t a private matter anymore, what has this world come to?

Funny thing is, the people on that secret list are happy to celebrate their rare chance to be a part of the torch run. If you find one of these lucky few, they’re pleased as punch to talk to you about it.

And the corporate sponsors who organized their own torchbearer contests get this. They’ve put their own torchbearers’ names on their website for everyone to see.

So what exactly is VANOC so worried about? Terrorists? With fire extinguishers?

They’ve even sent all torchbearers incredibly specific instruction on how to properly wear the official Olympic flame jumpsuit.

The commandments went as follows: 1) Ye official Olympic tuque shall not be worn jauntily askew. 2) Thine Olympic jacket shall be worn in a frontwards fashion, sleeves down. 3) Ye Olympic pants shall be worn only pulled firmly up around the buttocks. Plumber’s butt shall be swiftly punished.

Even when it came to choosing who would get to carry the torch, VANOC went a little overboard. Just ask Kitchener’s Brittany Livingston, a 13-year-old who poses such a danger to society that she declines newspaper interviews while doing her homework. She had to undergo a background check by the RCMP to make the list.

What threat could a 13-year-old girl possibly have to Canada’s Olympic celebration, especially when every torchbearer is trailed by two VANOC agents ready to pounce if you veer off the route?

But I guess we’re all missing the point. If you thought the running of the torch was supposed to be a national celebration, something fun even, you were wrong.

This is the Olympic flame, and this is serious business.

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