London 2012: Olympic torch buying controversy takes shine off relay

On Monday, London 2012 had a successful day launching the details of the Olympic torch relay, which is aimed at boosting support for the Games between May and the opening ceremony.

The details of the route were announcedand we were given a list of the names of most of the torchbearers - many of whom play a key role in local communities and give up their time for free to help others. 

The torch is a rare chance for people to cheer on local heroes in the community. And for 24 hours, London 2012 enjoyed a feel-good factor around the relay. 

But it did not last long. 

Young people

Torchbearers have now been sent an email telling them that they will have to pay £199 if they want to keep the torch as a souvenir of their special day.

Given that London 2012 particularly targeted young people to run with the torch, this is a problem.

Many can't afford to pay for it because they don't come from wealthy backgrounds. 

The organisers have suggested fund-raising to help pay the fee.

But other runners, who have been chosen because of their charity work, are, obviously, not happy to go back to the people who donate money to their causes and ask them to give cash to the organising committee of the 2012 Olympics.

I talked to Kristin Hallenga who is running with the flame in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

Three years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 23.  

Now she works tirelessly to spread awareness of breast cancer in young women and has set up her own charity CoppaFeel.


She will only walk with the torch because of a tumour on her spine but can't wait for the experience.

She says it's simply "rude" of the London organising committee to ask her to pay for the torch.

Kristin isn't alone. The BBC has had complaints from other torchbearers who are angry that they are being asked to pay.

London 2012 say they are asking for the fee to cover the cost of the torch and point to the fact that other host cities have also charged runners.

Big Society

Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson backed that view when I spoke to him.

But Olympic Games don't take place in a vacuum. 

What works in Sydney in 2000 doesn't necessarily work in Britain in 2012.

The decision is causing controversy at a time when the government is keen to promote its "Big Society" and when many organisations and local services are going to need more volunteers to keep going during challenging financial times. 

Interestingly, one of the relay sponsors, Coca-Cola, has said that the torchbearers it nominates will not have to pay.

I understand that other relay sponsors, like Samsung are also looking to do this, but Lloyds Bank are thinking of only paying for a small number of torches.

On Wednesday the London borough of Waltham Forest announced that it would pay the fee for its residents in the relay.

Council leader Chris Robbins said: "It seems a bit rich to expect residents of an Olympic host borough to fork out so much money, especially when they have done amazing things and got some very special stories to tell."  

Now Haringey Council have also said they will do the same.

I wouldn't be surprised if other councils also offer to pay the fee. 

I also wonder if London 2012 may end up having to do a u-turn on something which threatens to take the gloss of what should be a celebration of some of the most giving people in our communities.

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