Leading article: Fanning the flame?

Monday 07 April 2008 00:00 BST

The sight of a phalanx of police officers surrounding a runner carrying the Olympic torch through the streets of London in order to stave off the threat of protesters snatching the flame was a depressing reminder that the "torch of harmony" does not live up to its name.

But we should be quite wrong to conclude that politics was only now being allowed to intrude into a laudable, ancient rite and into the once sacred arena of sport.

There is nothing particularly sacred about the torch, essentially a fashion accessory revived for the purpose of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Its prin cipal purpose then was to showcase Hitler's and Goebbels' mad theories concerning the ideological debt they felt that Nazism owed to the civilisation of Ancient Greece, or rather, of Sparta. Then, as now, the route of the runners served a questionable political purpose. The Nazis engineered a course through the Balkans with a view to reminding those countries of Germany's growing power in the region.

No surprise that the same torch escorted yesterday in that undignified fashion through central London is to be carried through ahumilated Tibet. Plus ça change.

To describe it as a torch of harmony, therefore, is simply a misnomer. The question, which is germane for Britain ahead of the 2012 Games in Beijing, is what to do with the torch in future?

Regrettably, it seems unlikely that the ceremony of carrying the flame will ever now recover its old, almost anodyne, quality. Unharmonious it has become and will remain.

In that case, might it not be better just to snuff it out?

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