Friday, March 21, 2008

April 6th 2008: The Flame of Shame comes to London

It seems the events of Tibet are cutting little ice with the Olympic organisers so far.

The world tour of the Olympic flame comes to London on April 6th. The Times is today reporting that massive policing plans are underway to protect it. It is strange that a flame in a torch may turn into a symbol of the struggle between Tibet and the People's Republic of China.

London, of course, is significant in all this as it is the next venue for the Olympics in 2012 so there is an element of handover and continuity in all this.

So far celebrities such as former Blue Peter presenter Connie Huq are set to help carry the flame. Miss. Huq has hosted debates during the London mayoral race so one would hope that she is no air head looking for 15 minutes of fame. Of course I realise there are two sides to any argument and maybe she sincerely see the Olympics being held in Beijing as a good thing.

I must admit that until the recent events in Tibet started to unfold I had not really given it much thought either way. On a visit to Hong Kong last year I heard people speak positively about the Games. The main concern was how athletes would cope with the dreadful summer smog that plagues Beijing. The equestrian events are set to be held in Hong Kong so there was some pride in this.

Hong Kong is the only bit of China I have properly visited and is unique in allowing freedom (within reason !) under the "one country, two systems" system. The Former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind in yesterday's Times proposed an extension of this to Tibet as a way of resolving the crisis. That may have its merits but it seems unlikely that the Chinese Communist Party would agree.

Meanwhile, back in London on April 6th, the carrying of the flame around the city may turn into a battle between those who want to showcase a "normal" advanced China as it emerges into superpower status and those who want to remind the world that it still has a number of areas it needs to reform, such as the routine resort to deadly force to put down opposition to the Communist Party regime in areas such as Tibet.

This being London, rather than say Paris, it is difficult to see this turning into too major event. Londoners, even immigrants, tend to go in for "scuffles" more than hurling cobblestones like their French cousins. However in a London sense, there may be trouble.

Here for information, is the route currently scheduled on April 6th:

Wembley 10.30 International dancers on stage at Arena Square, outside Wembley Stadium

Ladbroke Grove 11.00 Mini-carnival with entertainers in carnival masquerade costumes performing to Soca music

Notting Hill Gate 11.20 Carnival del Pueblo Latino carnival band

Oxford Street 12.00 Open-top bus carrying celebrity torchbearer

British Museum 12.20 A fanfare with Greek trumpets in the Great Court

Chinatown 12.30 Costumed dragons and lions perform under Chinese decorations and lanterns on Gerrard Street

Piccadilly Circus 12.40 Convoy passes

Trafalgar Square 12.50 Dance spectacular in front of Nelson’s column, to the accompaniment of a brass fanfare

Southbank Centre 13.30 Spectacular welcome for the torch along the front terraces of the Royal Festival Hall with a choir of 600, Kathak, poetry, circus, hip-hop and beatboxing

Somerset House 14.15 Aletta Collins-choreographed dance accompanied by music from the Bollywood Brass Band

St Paul's Cathedral 14.30 Band of the Scots Guards will welcome the flame with fanfares and music from the cathedral steps

Potter's Fields/More London 15.00 Rhythms of the City and live drumming sessions

Whitechapel Road 15.30 Kinetika perform storytelling, costumes and dance

Stratford 16.00 World-themed carnival with 300 school children, 50 spectacular carnival costumes and nine music floats. An aerial performance will take place at Theatre Square

Canary Wharf 17.00 Carnival themed entertainment including acrobats, jugglers, stilt-walkers, street theatre, music shows, dance performances, face painters, children’s workshops and treasure hunts

North Greenwich 18.00 Grand finale — a free, ticketed event will be a fusion of East meets West, the contemporary and traditional, in a display of Chinese ribbon dancers, an electro-acoustic music act, gymnasts, pyro displays and a performance from the Sugababes.

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