Seb Coe promised an 'uplifting torch relay to inspire a generation'. So are these really the role models to do it?

The intention was that 8,000 local heroes with tales to motivate young people would carry the flame around Britain. But the 2012 sponsors had their own ideas. Tom Peck reports

Tom Peck@tompeck
Friday 29 June 2012 12:49

Giving someone a chance to carry the Olympic torch was supposed to be the ultimate reward for their generosity and selflessness in their local community. But rather than the 8,000 "inspiring" torchbearers promised by 2012 organisers, hundreds were selected solely for their work for the Games' corporate sponsors, The Independent can reveal.

Tens of thousands of people were turned down from positions carrying the torch as it makes its way through 1,019 communities in the UK. But due to London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) rules that allowed hundreds of places to be retained for the sponsors' own distribution, several of those being cheered along the 8,000-mile route will have little connection to sport, charity or community work.

They include a Norwegian mobile-phone salesman selected by sponsors Samsung; the company's New Jersey-based head of marketing; and the £900,000-a-year Next executive who brokered a deal to provide Team GB's opening-ceremony suits.

Jack Denness, a 77-year-old charity fundraiser from Kent, was denied a place despite raising more than £100,000 on 12 separate 155-mile runs through Death Valley in California. He described the selection system as "a farce".

Overall, 7,200 torchbearer positions have been given to members of the public through various public-nomination schemes run by Locog and the three main Olympic sponsors, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB. Although some of the 800 positions left over were given to stakeholders, such as the International Olympic Committee, the rest were left to be distributed internally among the three main sponsors and primary sponsors such as Adidas.

The primary sponsors were forbidden from holding public competitions for the tickets, but all were given the guidelines that internal candidates must be either "young people, or have stories inspiring to young people", with a strong emphasis on "personal bests", described as "back stories of personal achievement and/or contribution to the local community".

However, some of the nomination stories – all of which appear on the London 2012 website – reveal a tenuous link at best. In the case of Samsung, some have simply been cut and pasted from the corporate biographies of top executives.

The profile of American Todd Bouman, the director and head of IT marketing for Samsung Electronics Americas, who will carry the flame through Milton Bridge near Stoke-on-Trent on 14 June, points out that he "directs the development and execution of channel marketing activities that are focused on building up strong relationships with industry-leading IT partners". Oh, and he is also a coach of his local youth soccer team.

Sven Eric Durr, 29, from Bergen in Norway, who will carry the flame through the village of Kirkoswald in Ayrshire, has been "a Samsung brand ambassador for five years".

Adidas was given around 20 places in the relay. But seven of the "nomination stories" for people representing the company are identical and appear to have been written by their employer.

Among those selected by Adidas is IT worker Ross Banks. He will carry the flame through Huddersfield. "This year, due to European projects commitments, our Manhattan applications support team has been reduced from three people to two," his nomination story reads. "The warehouse is a critical component to Adidas and ensuring that the systems are available 100 per cent of the time is the only way all departments in operations can meet their targets."

Coca-Cola has heavily promoted its "Future Flames" campaign, allocating torch-relay places to the likes of 15-year-old Jordan Clarke, who had a liver transplant at the age of eight and has since raised more than £12,000 for Birmingham Children's Hospital.

But among the nominations the company gave to its own staff and partners are Julia Zeen, who designed its Olympic pin badges, and Ben Alun-Jones, who has been "developing concepts" for the interior of Coca-Cola's Olympic Pavilion.

"A small minority of our allocation have been given to our campaign ambassadors, affiliates and partner organisations, including StreetGames and the National Union of Students, who helped us find inspirational students, and to some of our employees," Coca-Cola said in a statement.

The recruitment firm Adecco, another Games sponsor, nominated its Swiss CEO, Patrick De Maeseneire, who will carry the flame through Camden on 26 July. The chief financial officer of UPS, Mark Vale, will carry the flame through Nottingham on 28 June.

Another torchbearer is Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's richest man, whose company ArcelorMittal has paid for the construction of the red Orbit sculpture at the Olympic Park. He will carry the torch through Kensington and Chelsea.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has said the relay represents "the democratisation of the fire of the gods". In March, he told a group of east London schoolchildren: "What we're doing is taking the fire away from the politicians, from the officials and from the fat cats, and giving it to the people, to everyone."

Some of the internal nominations among primary sponsors seem more in the spirit of the torch relay. At Lloyds TSB, staff were nominated for their charitable work, and the children of staff were also selected. All of British Airways' representatives are associated with charitable causes.

A spokesperson for Adidas said: "We looked across the Adidas business including our partners and set out criteria of who would be considered for a place. This falls in line with the Locog guidelines of either youth, inspiration or 'personal best'.

"Adidas staff were able to nominate who should be considered and build a case for their inclusion. Inspiration and personal best are both subjective; however, Adidas is satisfied that our torch runners meet these criteria."

A spokesperson for Samsung said: "Just like the torchbearers selected through public nomination, these individuals have 'gone the extra mile', which means they have made contributions to the local communities and inspired others in a meaningful way."

A London 2012 spokesperson said: "Staging the Olympic Games is a huge undertaking and we couldn't do it without the support from our commercial partners. The rights packages for some partners include a small number of torchbearer places that had to be filled through internal campaigns.

"The same torchbearer-selection criteria applied across the whole relay, i.e. personal bests and/or contribution to the community, but it could be, in a small number of cases, that some of the shorter summaries supplied do not quite do individuals justice."

Coe's commitment: the relay promise

At the Olympic flame lighting ceremony in Greece last month, Lord Coe gave a speech in front of Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president. He promised that the torch relay would "lift the spirits and hopes of people across Britain and across world". He continued: "We promise to protect the flame; to cherish its traditions and to stage an uplifting torch relay of which we can all be proud and which can inspire a generation. We will involve young people from all backgrounds, cultures and faith groups in the torch relay, reflecting London's immense diversity and creativity as a global destination and voice for young people."

The corporate carriers

The designer

Carl Halksworth, 46, is creative director at Landor, BP's design agency partner for London 2012. He will carry the flame through Westminster on 26 July. His profile says: "Carl embodies the Olympic and Paralympic spirit in many ways. He works incredibly hard, delivering to tight deadlines, even if this means working antisocial hours to get the job done."

The tycoon

Lakshmi Mittal, 61, Britain's richest man and CEO of ArcelorMittal, is carrying the torch through Kensington and Chelsea on 26 July. His nomination story says he is doing it to represent "the 270,000 people around the world who are a part of the ArcelorMittal family".

The man from Samsung

Sven Eric Dürr, 29, is a salesman for Samsung in Norway and will carry the torch through Kirkoswald, Cumbria. Said to be a sports enthusiast. "Most importantly he will be a good representative for Samsung," his profile adds.

The deal-maker

Christos Angelides, 49, from Solihull, secured Next's partnership with the Olympics, which will see the retailer design Team GB's outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies. He carried the flame through Stafford on 30 May.

The other man from Samsung

Todd Bouman, 42, director and head of IT marketing for Samsung Electronics America, will carry the torch through Milton Bridge on 14 June. His nomination profile adds that he was a coach for his local youth football team in Northvale, New Jersey.

The IT guy

Ross Banks, member of the Adidas IT team, from Stoke-on-Trent, will carry the torch through Huddersfield on 24 June. "Ross, 34, is a member of the Adidas IT team. The dedication Ross has shown providing support and improvement to the system have been exemplary."

... and the other other man from Samsung

Andy Griffiths, 50, from Guildford, will carry the Olympic flame through the London Borough of Hounslow on 24 July. He has "led Samsung UK's Consumer Electronics business since the end of 2005". His profile points out he is a keen mountain biker who completed a sponsored ride in Northern England in June, the proceeds of which went to charity.

Case study: £100,000 raised for charity, but I still couldn't get a place

Jack Denness, 77, from Rochester, Kent, saw his application to be a torch-bearer rejected despite raising more than £100,000 for charity by running through Death Valley 12 times – at his own expense.

I don't think it's sour grapes on my part," he said. "The organisers say it's about inspiring young people. I'm 77, I'm still working, and I'm a caretaker at a school. I'm working when the relay comes through Rochester, so I won't see it. The kids would have had the afternoon off to come and watch me run. I understand they're not going to now. People who know me well ask me, 'Jack, what's gone wrong? It's not fair.' It makes a bit of a farce of the system, doesn't it? These companies, in the main, aren't paying for sport, they're just paying to have their name slapped on the Olympics.

"In our town there's only one local athlete. There's someone from Warsaw in Poland, people from Cheam. It's not right. They don't represent our town. I don't know how they're picked. I guess some committee sat down and chose a few names. It's not in the right spirit of the Olympics.

"Paul Nihill, who won a silver medal in Tokyo in 1964 for the 50km walk, he's a distant relative of mine. He's invited me to the evening celebrations at Leeds Castle. I'll go to that. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. Something I could have told my grandkids about, but it's gone out the window."

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