Plan for US torchbearers in Oxfordshire criticised

Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, and The Voice The American singer Will.i.am carried the Olympic torch in Taunton

Residents and community leaders have criticised plans by Coca-Cola to fly over 22 Americans to carry the Olympic torch in Oxfordshire.

Jeanette Howse, who was nominated but did not get a place, said she was "disappointed" that places had gone to people without community links.

Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said also it was "disappointing" news.

But organiser Locog said the Games were a global event that needed the help of sponsors.

Fitness personality

The spokesman added that a small percentage of runners came from overseas.

He said Locog had "worked hard to make sure people are within an hour of their nomination postcode so friends and family can support them and celebrate their role."

Coca-Cola has been allocated 1,350 torchbearer places, with just over 100 of them coming from overseas.

The group of 22 American runners is the largest single group the soft drinks company is looking after.

They have been kept together in Oxfordshire for operational and logistical reasons.

There will be 10 teenagers from across the US as well as Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders and fitness personality Jake Steinfeld of Body by Jake.

The torchbearers were nominated by peers, teachers, and leaders of youth organisations.

Mr Price said the situation illustrated "one of the drawbacks of taking large scale funding for the Olympics from large multi-national companies."

London 2012 Olympic torch relay

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Ms Howse, who was nominated to take part in the relay for her work promoting Didcot, said: "I'm disappointed not to have got it knowing someone from another country, without having any community links, will be taking part.

"I thought it was all about local people getting the chance to support people in their community who had helped their local community."

A spokeswoman from Coca-Cola said people from the UK had run in relays in other countries and having a small number of international runners was "in the spirit" of the global event.

'Greater burden'

The mayor of Bicester, Dan Sames, said: "Although it will be disappointing for some people, corporate sponsorship is the price that has to be paid for putting on the Olympics in modern times.

"The alternative is the tax payer taking on a greater burden and I'm sure people would complain if they had to pay too much.

"The Olympics are a worldwide event and so it is certainly appropriate that young people from other nations take part in the relay."

The mayor of Oxford, Alan Armitage, said: "Oxford is an international city and we hope to welcome athletes from all around the world during the Olympics and Paralympics."

The Olympic torch will be in Oxfordshire for two days on the 9 and 10 of July. Full details of the route can be found on the BBC's Olympic torch relay website.

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