Olympic Torch Relay Fears Protesters

Two news articles on VANOC's fear of protests disrupting the Torch Relay..

Olympic organizers expect torch relay to attract protesters

Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, December 03, 2008

VANCOUVER - When the 2010 Olympic Torch relay starts in October 2009, organizers say they expect it to be a magnet for protesters wanting to use it for their own political purposes.

But they're asking protesters not to ruin the moment for thousands of torchbearers who will carry the Olympic flame across Canada in a 106-day journey.

With the spectre of mass protests during the international leg of the 2008 Beijing torch relay on their minds, Vancouver Organizing Committee officials and the relay's co-presenting sponsors are appealing for decorum.

"We respect individuals' rights to protest but what we would ask for them is to respect this is a family kind of thing and that they allow for families and children and the young at heart to enjoy the relay," said Jim Richards, Vanoc's director of torch relays.

But Chris Shaw, an anti-globalization protester who has long opposed the 2010 Olympics, said he expects protesters will take a page out of the Beijing protests and do everything they can to disrupt the relay.

Richards said he doesn't think protests in Canada will be as raucous as those that beset Beijing's relay. He also doesn't think the 187 communities that will put on midday and evening celebrations welcoming the torch will tolerate disruption.

"Our goal in terms of that is building equity with communities across Canada so that they feel a sense of ownership and a sense of pride. This is a community event and there won't be the tolerance for protesters," Richards said.

But Shaw, who speaks for a group called 2010 Watch, said he expects protesters will try hard to stop the relay, douse the torch and interfere with runners.

"For me, my boundary would be if anything harmed people. I don't see civil disobedience and disruption, for lack of a better word, as violence," he said.

Richards' comments Wednesday show that Vanoc, which watched this summer as protesters disrupted Canadian Pacific's 2010 Spirit Train, knows it is heading for trouble, he said.

"They saw what happened with the Spirit Train and I think they are trying to put the happiest face on what is in their future," Shaw said.

Representatives of the two co-presenting sponsors, Nicola Kettliz of Coca-Cola, and Di Henry, who works for the Royal Bank of Canada, said they expect protests, but don't want them to get out of hand.

"You have to respect the right to protest in a free country, and we have dealt with that very gently in the past," Kettlitz said. "Sometimes you have to change the route at the last minute, but for the most part people are able to enjoy the relay."



Olympic torch expert vague on tactics for protestors
By Geoff Dembicki, The Hook, December 3, 2008

An Olympic torch relay expert who’s worked on flame routes for the Beijing, Sydney and Torino games offered few suggestions for managing protestors at a luncheon speech earlier today.

Speaking to business leaders, B.C. community reps and media, Diane Henry told rousing stories about torchbearers and outlined commercial opportunities for towns along the relay route.

The event was bookended by two montage videos of past torch relays featuring heart-string-tugging soft rock music.

According to a press release circulated to reporters, Henry has been involved with 13 torch relays affecting 170 nations. “[She] is one of the most experienced international event managers and torch relay experts in the world,” read the release.

During a very brief question period following her speech, though, Henry had little advice for how to deal with protestors along the torch route for the 2010 Winter Games.

“That’s definitely a question for VANOC,” she joked. “It’s a very tricky question… I think it’s a free country and people can protest by the side of the road in a peaceful fashion.”

Jim Richards, director of torch relays for Vancouver 2010, said the potential to draw protestors is a significant challenge for route organizers and communities.

“We respect individuals' right to protest,” he said. “What we would ask for them is that they allow for families, children and the young at heart to engage and enjoy the rally.”

Asked what plans VANOC has in place to deal with unruly protestors, Richards was vague.

“We’ll be looking to work with the RCMP on those plans,” he said.

The $30 million Olympic torch relay will travel 45,000 kilometres and pass through 266 B.C. communities or places of interest on its way to Vancouver.

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for the Hook.