Terence Blacker: This Olympic torch relay smacks of propaganda

Muscular men and nubile girls waft around in robes like extras from Ben-Hur

Share

Nobody likes to be a spoilsport, least of all in a year when sportiness will be unavoidable in these islands. All the same, there is something about the expensive farrago surrounding the Olympic flame, lit in Olympia yesterday, which brings on an attack of pre-Games queasiness. It is now on its way from Greece, just as it was 76 years ago when Josef Goebbels, then in the Lord Coe role, first came up with the idea of promoting Aryanism with the help of a torch made by the arms manufacturer Krupp.

Today, the idea of purity survives in a less loathsome form – the flame is meant to be lit by the pure rays of the sun magnified by a mirror – but it is still part of a hugely expensive, carefully planned exercise in brainwashing.

Supporters of this relatively recent tradition argue that traipsing a torch around Greece, and then around Britain (with an apologetic little dash into Ireland), brings the Olympic spirit to those unable to attend. Sport, it is said, can send out a global message of peace, love and fraternity. While Olympic events celebrate excellence, the flame marks the contributions of ordinary, "inspirational people".

When sport is used for propaganda purposes, we should all be wary. At this week's silly faux-pagan lighting ceremony – muscular men and nubile girls wafting around in white robes like extras from Ben-Hur – the small delegation from the UK included such representatives of global purity as senior managers from Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB.

Having been taken around Greece (a country, one might think, with rather more important matters on its mind), the torch will be flown to Cornwall and start its long journey around the villages of Britain. Here, the inspirational torchbearers – asthmatic schoolkids, have-a-go grannies, legless war heroes, reformed crack addicts, TV presenters, charity workers, half-forgotten footballers – will form a daisy-chain of national self-congratulation. With a six-hour dash to Dublin – and I promise I'm not making this up – the Irish peace process will be marked by torchbearers including the eccentric twins of reality TV, Jedward.

A bizarre combination of phoney mythological nonsense, celebrity endorsement, sentimentality and national smugness, the torch campaign has been organised by politicians and business people in whose interests it is to stoke a fake sense of wellbeing. Sport has been hijacked by the powerful. This patronising hocus-pocus is staged to make us all feel kinder and better than we in fact are. Even without Leni Riefenstahl to capture it all on camera, the Olympic torch remains an instrument of manipulative propaganda, which has little to do with any kind of purity.

Twitter.com/@TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game