Olympic torch to make 400 stops on path to Paris opening ceremony

Olympic torch to make 400 stops on path to Paris opening ceremony

It will be one of the longest Olympic torch relays in history. For 10 weeks, about 10,000 people ranging from sports stars to survivors of terrorist attacks and a 102-year-old veteran of the French Resistance will take turns to carry the symbolic flame.

The torch will travel through more than 400 French towns and territories including Guadeloupe, Martinique, New Caledonia and Réunion before the Paris Olympic Games opening ceremony on 26 July.

Other notable locations on the itinerary include Mont Saint-Michel, the Normandy beaches of the D-day landings and the space centre at Kourou in French Guiana.

But, with heavy police protection and high costs, and amid rows over who the torchbearers should be and criticism over the environmental impact of travel, French organisers are hoping that millions will turn out to see the torch pass through.

“The torch is magical for its symbolism and for those who carry it,” the French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra told Ouest France, saying she felt the relay would mobilise all French people to get behind the games.

More than 150,000 spectators and 6,000 police officers are expected in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on Wednesday night as the lantern carrying the Olympic flame arrives in France on a 19th-century sailing ship, after a 12-day journey from Greece.

Piles of rubbish were being hastily cleared from streets in Marseille on Tuesday after refuse collectors went on strike ahead of the concerts and festivities which have been arranged to welcome the flame.

But two figures at Marseille’s left-run city hall, Sébastien Barles and Aïcha Sif, wrote an open letter to the daily Libération warning of the cost, high security and environmental impact of the torch relay, saying the Olympic Games were being used to “distract public opinion from the key issues of our era: the climate crisis and defending democracy and social protections”.

The torch will travel through more than 400 French towns and territories. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

They said that the big sponsors of the games could use it as a “showcase for greenwashing, to the glory of climate-killing multinationals”, citing Coca-Cola.

Secrecy remains over which stars will carry the torch at key moments, including at the Paris opening ceremony. But citizen torchbearers across France will include Lassana Bathily, the former supermarket worker who helped hide customers at the Paris kosher supermarket that was targeted in a terrorist attack in January 2015.

Mélanie Berger-Volle, 102, who joined the French Resistance as a teenager, will carry the torch in the Loire. In Nice, Stéphane Erbs, who was injured and lost his wife in the terrorist attack on the Nice seafront in 2016 will take part.

Paris torchbearers will include the refuse collector Ludovic Franceschet, who has a large social media following for his videos about picking up litter and protecting the planet.

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Paris city hall said it had informed prosecutors of online hate messages after it chose Minima Gesté, a drag queen, as a torch-bearer in the capital.

Gesté appeared in an official Paris video online saying carrying the torch was a great moment for the LGBTQIA+ community, which “would not have been possible 10 years ago”.

Authorities condemned“numerous homophobic and transphobic” comments that were then posted online. The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said: “Paris is proud that a drag queen will carry the flame and carry our values of peace and humanity.”

Several exhibitions in the capital are reassessing the history of Olympic rituals, including the torch relay.

A show at the Mémorial de la Shoah explains how the flame relay from Greece to the host country – which today is organised as the ultimate journey of inclusivity and tolerance – began as an idea of the Nazis at the Berlin Games in 1936.

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