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Originally published April 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 9, 2008 at 11:12 AM

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Steve Kelley

Olympic torch relay not inspiring unity

A little lesson on the history of the Olympic torch relay: You might think, as I did before Tuesday, that it was a representation of everything...

Seattle Times staff columnist

A little lesson on the history of the Olympic torch relay:

You might think, as I did before Tuesday, that it was a representation of everything that is good in all of us. That its history was lush with goodwill.

Maybe you thought the relay dated back to the ancient Greeks, that it was a dramatic tribute to mythology. Prometheus stealing the fire from Zeus.

Those of us who watched, as the torch was carried across the Cascades and into a high-school stadium in Wenatchee on the Fourth of July in 1984, felt inspired. Wasn't that what this relay was all about?

The torch, I thought, was a uniter, not a divider. It was supposed to belong to all of us, a symbol of the Olympic spirit, the best of humankind.

Turns out the Olympic torch relay represents the worst, not the best, in humankind. And I'm not talking about this week's protests in London and Paris and San Francisco.

The roots of this relay are deeper and uglier.

The idea wasn't introduced by the ancient Greeks, but by the Nazis before the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was an idea that was sold to Hitler by propagandist Josef Goebbels, who thought it could link the Nazi movement with the Olympic spirit.

Goebbels wanted the relay to bring positive attention to the Third Reich.

The relay is nothing more than a dark marketing ploy. It is a symbol of genocide and racism and the worst kind of suppression of human rights. And, on that basis alone, it should be discontinued.

Forget the protests. Think about the history.

Three Reichs and you're out.

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The torch relay no longer is a symbol of the Olympic spirit and, frankly, it never should have been.

Considering its origins, these protests — almost all of them focusing on human-rights violations in various parts of the world — seem like the perfect response to the torch relay.

The relay is a magnet for discontent. It is turning into a long-running riot.

Quel dommage!

Somewhere in the middle of the crowd of the rollerblading Parisian policemen Monday, the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Paris.

(Rollerblading cops? Part of the feared French Blue Blade Brigade perhaps? Their motto: "We skate in line to keep you in line.")

Sacre bleu!

Protesters tried to run through the phalanx of France's finest and grab the torch out of the hands of its dismayed bearers. Most were bounced back to the sidewalk looking like square dancers who had lost their grip. Some were tackled and dumped on the pavement. Many were arrested.

By some accounts the torch was extinguished at least five times. At one point it was put on a bus as if it were a commuter trying to make it uptown at rush hour.

Watching the footage on television, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The final French leg was canceled by Chinese Olympic officials. A planned rally at City Hall also was canceled.

The day before, in London, the scene was similar. And yesterday banners hung from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco proclaiming "One World Dream" and "Free Tibet '08."

Surprisingly, this isn't the first year the relay has inspired protests.

As far back as 1956 an Australian student posed as an Olympic athlete before the Melbourne Games. He carried a torch made out of burning underpants, inside a can, on the end of a chair leg.

He presented that "torch" to the mayor of Sydney, then fled before the mayor figured out the hoax. The student was protesting the relay's Nazi roots.

The International Olympic Committee should have paid attention to the student.

Today the torch is supposed to make a 6-mile loop through San Francisco, and security will be so tight you'll think the torch was a head of state.

Protests aren't expected. They're guaranteed.

And because of all this recent unpleasantness, the IOC will meet Friday to discuss whether it should continue the international leg of this relay.

The answer is obvious.

Douse the flame. Stop the relay. Not just for these Olympics, but forever.

This was Goebbels' idea. It was approved by Hitler.

End of argument.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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