Olympic Torch Sparks Controversy About Bearers

By Ines Novacic

Jun 15, 2012 8:27am
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Danny Lawson/LOCOG/AP

 

Raquel Matos, a 16-year-old champion Scottish swimmer, carried the Olympic torch for part of its journey through Edinburgh, Scotland, and was thrilled over the honor.

“It’s like showing how this one flame brings the world together,” said Matos, after completing her section of the torch relay Thursday.

“It was surreal,” Matos said later.  “I couldn’t really remember it once I finished it.”

Matos said she was stunned that so many people came out to watch her 400-meter run on the 27th day of the relay.

The teenager is one of 8,000 people selected by several games’ panels to carry the torch around the majority of the United Kingdom. Controversy surrounding this selection process recently came to public attention after one young athlete from the west of England had his torch bearing privilege revoked two weeks before he was supposed to run. He was replaced by two wealthy business executives, reportedly recommended by Adidas, a major sponsor of London 2012.

“There’s been a lot of rumors that people are paying to carry the torch,” Jillian Hilling from the UK Labor party told ABC News. “I know we all made a collective decision that we can’t expect taxpayers to entirely fund the Olympics, and we do need sponsors. But people are saying that there’s a lot of business people carrying the flame.”

Hilling voiced these concerns earlier today in the British Parliament. Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson replied that he had seen “absolutely no evidence” of these claims.

“The London Organizing Committee have specifically gone out of their way to look for community champions,” Robertson remarked.

A spokesperson for the Organizing Committee said, “She basically got confused. In the case of the young man who didn’t end up running, he was never ‘replaced’ by Adidas. He failed background checks.”

But the family of Jason Taylor, the young athlete in question, insist that his record is clean.

“We know he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Julie Berrisford, Taylor’s mother, told ABC News. “He was sent an email by the committee congratulating him, that his background check was clear. Then two weeks before he was supposed to run, he was sent another email saying he had failed the check.”

Taylor refused to comment, but Berrisford added, “I’d like if they put it right and gave an apology so he can get his reputation back. A local politician has now taken up the case and hopefully they’ll find something.”

Almost all torchbearer places were made available to the public through a number of channels, including the four public nomination campaigns run by the Organizing Committee, Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB Bank and Samsung. These three “Presenting Partners” each have seventeen percent allocation rights. Three weeks ago, Coca Cola flew 22 “outstanding Americans” to the UK carry the Olympic through Oxford.

An Olympics spokesman 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 flame will end its 70-day, 8,000 mile journey across the UK when it lights the cauldron at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

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