Applications for Olympic Torch Just a Flicker

Applications for 2010 Olympic torchbearers falling far short of '88 Games

Published Saturday May 9th, 2009
Stephanie Levitz, THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER, B.C. - It seems the attempt to light the Olympic flame in the hearts of all Canadians has so far produced only a flicker.

With only a few weeks left to apply to carry the torch for the 2010 Winter Games, applications are nowhere near the level of the 1988 Games in Calgary, when six million people vied for a spot along a much shorter route.

Coke, one of two major sponsors for the relay, has seen just under one million applications for its share of spaces. The other torch relay sponsor, RBC, wouldn't release the number of applications its received, but says it's in the hundreds of thousands.

The lower numbers are, in part, because sponsors and the Vancouver organizing committee haven't done a good job of communicating to the public, said Dave Moran, director of public affairs and communications for Coke.

"(People) don't think there is a sense of timing, urgency to apply now and they don't think they are either eligible or capable of running," Moran said.

Coke has now retooled its torch relay ad campaign to emphasize its May 24 application deadline and to highlight the relative ease of carrying the torch - a 300-metre jog with a sleek torch that weighs about as much as a one-litre bottle of Coke.

RBC's statistics suggest applications across the country have been consistent with the division of population, except in Quebec. The province has 23 per cent of the Canadian population but only 12 per cent of applications through RBC.

Unlike Coke, RBC has no plans to go back into the market with new ads as their July 15 deadline nears, said Jackie Braden, a spokeswoman for the company.

But she acknowledged that connecting people to an event that's still far away isn't always easy.

"We hope and we're sure that Canadians will rally around the relay as it gets closer to the date and people get more and more excited about it coming to their city," she said.

While torchbearer applications may be low, using that statistic to determine overall support for the Games is misguided, said Renee Smith-Valade, vice-president of communications for the organizing committee, known as VANOC.

Sky-high demand for tickets from across the country coupled with internal polls that show an increasing awareness of the Games are all signs pointing in the direction of pan-Canadian support for the Olympics, she said.

"Are we worried about it? No. I would say we're comfortable that not only in Quebec but everywhere else in the country, the level of support and awareness is where we would expect it would be right now and we're happy with it," she said.

The committee wouldn't release the full polling data or numbers for ticket sales by province.

Instead, they pointed to the 61,000 volunteer applications for the Games, not including those hoping to have a role in the opening and closing ceremonies.

That so many people are willing to give up their time and pay to work at the Games shows the support is there, Smith-Valade said.

Of the volunteers, 4,000 come from Quebec, placing the province fourth in the list of volunteer applications.

First is B.C., followed by Ontario and then Alberta, though VANOC declined to release specific numbers for those provinces.

"The goal is to make these Canada's Games and to bring every province and every territory into the fold and really see that they have embraced the idea of feeling a sense of ownership of the Games," she said.

Picking up on that theme will be the federal government, which will launch an ad campaign of its own this fall that will run until the end of the Paralympics next March.

The responsibility of uniting Canadians around the Olympics is one the government takes seriously, not just because of its substantial investment in the Olympics, said Michelle Yao, a spokesperson for the minister of state for sport, Gary Lunn.

"Corporate sponsors and VANOC are doing a good job getting out their message, but our message is for all audiences, it's for Canadians everywhere," said Yao.

"In order to really make these Canada's Games the government should be involved in passing that message to everyday Canadians."

The federal government just put a pavilion on a tour of Canada with Olympic-related games and activities. It will stop in eight places before coming to rest in Vancouver for the Games.

A recent audit of federal government efforts around the Olympics suggested the federal government wasn't engaged enough in the Games.