Posted on: 10 Jul 2012
Written by: chris
Down here in the Reading area, there’s great excitement in our house as my children impatiently await today’s arrival of the Olympic torch relay.
While there has been almost universal praise across the UK for the organisation of the event, there has been some criticism of the Olympic organiser LOCOG’s emphasis on national over regional flags (carried either by runners or spectators). Most of the time this has been manifested in the proactive distribution of Union flags to the crowds ahead of the relay procession, which is of course a legitimate and praiseworthy practice; but even so, there has been a darker side:
- A British citizen attempting to display an Egyptian flag on his bicycle simply because “we have a lot of friends there” was told by police to take it down, and was threatened with arrest if he tried to display it again;
- The final torchbearer in the Cornwall leg of the relay had a St Piran’s Cornish flag forcibly taken from his grasp by a security official as he approached the Tamar crossing into Devon. Additionally, the iconic archway at Land’s End, which used to display the words “Land’s End” and its Cornish equivalent “Pen an Wlas” side by side”, was redecorated (legitimately enough, by the private company which owns the site) to display the English title only shortly before the torch relay, prompting the inevitable accusations of anti-Cornish bias;
- Town councils in Wales and Scotland have somewhat controversially been bowing to “official policy” and replacing their dragon and saltire flags with Union flags as the relay passes. Having said that, the Scottish government is said to have given out hundreds of saltires to the crowds around Edinburgh castle, presumably working on the principle that the Olympics organisers couldn’t confiscate them all…?
- Hampden Park was forced to fight for the right to continue flying the saltire over the stadium when it hosts its Olympics football matches; the London Olympics committee had wanted it to be replaced with the Union flag.
Granted, the above backlash is hardly on the same scale as, say, the protests in Ukraine over their parliament’s decision to make Russian the main language in schools – or even the storm in a teacup over the inclusion (or not) of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish players in the British Olympic football team – and it must be said that LOCOG’s motives of providing “a uniform experience” for all runners (part of which is to thwart attempts to turn the Games into a platform for political issues – remember Beijing?) are understandable enough.
However, there are suspicions that there’s also a commercial side to all this. Consider, for example, the recent episode where a relay official questioned a Newark pub landlord for giving children England flags left over from the Euro 2012 tournament, displaying a sponsor’s logo in the corner. Actually, I don’t know in that case whether I’m more offended (in a Daily Mail-like way) at the idea of some nasty men spoiling the little kids’ fun or (in my capacity as a Welshman with occasional militant tendencies) by the implication that LOCOG would have been happy enough with this display of rampant ENGLISH nationalism had the St. George Crosses in question not borne said logo.
Fortunately for the good citizens of my (adopted) county, Berkshire has never had an official flag, so I suppose there’s little chance anyone will fall foul of LOCOG’s regulations around here tonight…