Sunday, April 13, 2008

Torch runs of a different kind....

Ten thousand and more moons ago, when we were still the "next generation" (currently, we belong to the older variety), running was associated with stuff like running for buses, running from a herd of sneezing bulls or a pack of mad dogs, running to catch trains which had suddenly altered departure timings, running to catch forgotten school stuff which our brethren flung at us from a first floor balcony, and such mundane stuff. The most wildly exciting form of running, which was practiced in dramatic style in movies, was running away from home. For square and gutless folks like me, that was never an option.

Today running is a political statement. Allowing an unhindered Olympic torch relay to happen is a political statement. Allowing protest regarding the torch relay , is another political statement.

It has nothing to do with the sport of "running" per se.

In the original ancient Olympics, there was a flame, but there was NO torch relay. In its original form, the Olympic flame was lit at the beginning of the Games, and it continued to burn throughout the games. It was doused at the conclusion of the games. Any kind of running with torches, was actually a public relations event, where capable chaps ran through cities in Greece announcing the games, and inviting the populace. While there were Gods-of-honor, like Zeus associated with the games, it isn't clear if the games had an entry fee, whether the public paid to get in, whether the temple staff went in free, etc etc.

The first torch relay was held in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where a person called Carl Diem, decided to organize a relay transport of the Olympic torch from the site in Greece, to the Berlin Stadium. Hitler was to preside, and his minions convinced him about the games being THE place to highlight German and Aryan supremacy. A German (Aryan) athlete ran with the flame. The country went all out and "Jews not wanted" signs were ordered to be removed from tourist attractions. The Ministry of the Interior directed the Berlin Police to arrest all the gypsies and keep them in special camps; the clean, white, superior Aryan games would not be sullied with visions of impure gypsies.

In these modern times, the Torch travels by various modes of transport, like planes, ships, cars , buses and human runners. Governments give high priority to this trip of the torch. A few symbolic athletes are involved. In some countries like ours, it is a place for political games and oneupmanship, as you stand on a dias, high-up, applauding the carefully selected favoured runners, chortling to yourself as you pose next to the current powers that be, thinking about the event organization and commercial profits-to-be.....

Tibetan people have used this occasion to highlight their plight . Amidst varying opinions about whether this way of protesting is acceptable, one cannot help think of what would have happened if the imprisoned gypsies in Hitler's Olympics had protested, or been allowed to have their say. But Germany then was NOT a real democracy; Hitler dictated. Today, China is NOT a democracy, and communists rule, with as iron a fist as any, particularly when it comes to the religious Tibetans. History appears to be repeating itself. Maybe we need a Tibetan Jesse Owens.

But. There is another kind of Torch Relay happening.

Special Olympics are held throughout the world, to encourage differently abled people to participate in sports. A sports festival where participating is as important and as much applauded as winning, the torch relay here has been used as a fund raiser in the form of a The Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Initiated in 1981, by
Richard LaMunyon, Police Chief of Wichita, Kansas(USA), who foresaw an urgent need to raise funds for the success and awareness of the Special Olympics (for very special people), the Torch Run was soon adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Across the world, this is the largest grassroots fundraiser, as well as a public awareness event , and they have raised up to 30 million dollars in 2007,

Close to
85,000 law enforcement officers/police carried the torch as the "Flame of Hope" across 35 nations, raising awareness and funds for Special Olympics.
Police officers and Special athletes participate in torch runs, wherever Special Olympic local events are held, leading up to the main Special Olympics. Funds are generated through various things like a "adopt-a-cop" runner sponsorship, Special Torch Run T-shirt sales, corporate sponsorships, golf tournaments , pledges for running policemen, and every two years, law enforcement officers from around the world gather to carry the "Flame of Hope" in a Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg in honor of the Special Olympics World Summer or World Winter Games.

India does send athletes to these Olympics , and does very well, medals and all

. We never hear of a hue and cry being made . by the powers-that-be, over these "torch runs" . Maybe that's because its never about making or winning points, but all about participation. And about rejoicing in the win of your fellow athlete. No Pepsi, no Cocacola, no Samsung, no scheming, no politics , no announcing rewards in parliament ,no nothing.

We have politicized the Olympics. Like in Cricket, money dictates attitudes. You cow-tow to countries smitten by trade agreements, price of oil, their support at the UN; all , with a fine myopic blink at their country maps, where they claim a part of your country as theirs......

All this thoughtless running. For reasons of power. Not what Olympics is all about.

Shakespeare probably never did sprints or marathons. But he anticipated things when he said:

We may outrun

By violent swiftness that which we run at,

And lose by over-running.

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