Manila misses out on torch relay for Beijing

By ROY MEDINA
abs-cbnNEWS.com
Except for that event during the period leading to the 1964 Tokyo Games, Manila has yet to repeat its hosting of the Olympic torch relay, now winding its way down to Jakarta, Indonesia in Southeast Asia, Canberra in Australia, and back to mainland China.

On Tuesday, April 22, the torch relay arrived in the Indonesian capital amid tight security. Jakarta is 14th in the list for the relay, which saw the Olympic flame taking the trip across the world — from Beijing, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Greece, France, England, Russia, US, Argentina, Tanzania, Oman, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, the Koreas, Hong Kong, Macau, and back to China.

Following Jakarta, the Olympic flame is set leave for Canberra, the Australian capital, before making its way back to mainland China and through Chinese cities.

Before Jakarta, the flame was in Kuala Lumpur, around three hours by plane from Manila.

In 1964, the year boxer Anthony Villanueva won a silver medal for the Philippines in the Games, the flame made a stopover in Manila following Kuala Lumpur.

Manila left out

But in the preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Manila seems to have been left out.

The question is, why?

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) spokesman Joey Romasanta explained that the route of the torch relay was decided by the Beijing organizing committee.

“They decided in terms of practicality of the route,” he told abs-cbnNEWS.com.

This, Romasanta added, was reached based on the geographical location of each stopover.

“This was done so that all of the regions are represented,” he said,

Had the torch been made to go through all of the participating countries, the torch relay would never reach the host country in time for the Games’ opening in August 2008, Romasanta said.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — two of the Philippines’ neighboring countries — were lucky that they were included in the route, he said.

Aside from these concerns, organizers of the torch relay have to contend with the limited time they have to map out the various stopovers all over the world — all fitted into a one-month time frame.

That elusive gold

Sports analyst and commentator Bill Velasco, meanwhile, said that the ultimate deciding factor in the selection of stopovers for the torch relay would be market consideration.

Another factor would be security, considering the anti-Chinese protests because of the situation in Tibet.

“Besides, we haven’t won a single gold medal in the Olympics,” Velasco added.

True, the Philippines has yet to bag a gold in the Olympics.

Since the Filipino athletes were fielded for the 1924 Paris Games, the Philippines has only won a total of nine medals — two silvers and seven bronzes (boxing: two silvers, three bronzes; swimming: two bronzes; and athletics: two bronzes).

Villanueva’s silver in 1964 and a similar conquest by boxer Mansueto Velasco in the 1996 Atlanta Games were the closest thing to the top prize.

Beijing preparations

Robert Aventajado, POC chairman, on the hand, said that while Manila was not included as a venue for the torch relay, the Philippine delegation for the Games is now busy preparing for their respective events.

He clarified that there is no single training center for Filipino athletes for the Olympics. Rather, training is being done through the athletes’ respective National Sports Associations.

Jakarta leg

In Jakarta, the flame was warmly received by a cheering crowd, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said.

“A chartered plane carrying the flame, which was ignited on March 24 in ancient Olympia of Greece, landed on the Halim military airport at local time 12:05 a.m. from Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia,” said the report on the relay’s official Web site (www.torchrelay.beijing2008.cn), a total of 108 days before the opening of the Games.

Jiang Xiaoyu, vice-president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, carried the lantern of the flame and walked off the plane.

Among those who welcomed the delegation were Hendarji Soepandji, vice-president of the Indonesian National Sports Committee, and other senior sports officials. Also in attendance were more than 100 workers from Chinese companies in Indonesia.

Rosy, thorny

While China’s state news agency painted a rosy welcome for the torch, Reuters had a different version of the events.

“The Olympic torch will make another curtailed relay under tight security before a selected audience in the Indonesian capital on Tuesday, the latest stop along its fraught journey around the world,” Reuters said.

The report added that 2,500 policemen and about 1,000 soldiers were deployed to guard the torch relay amid the expected series of anti-China protests during events in Europe, US and other countries because of the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

But while anti-China demonstrations were frequent in the relay’s stopovers, pro-China demonstrations, many involving Chinese studying overseas, are becoming increasingly common as well, Reuters said.

At the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, several demonstrations were conducted though they have been small in scale in the mainly Muslim nation.

“From the report that we received last week, there will be some groups protesting. They are welcome to protest as long as they do not disturb us,” Sumohadi Marsis, head of the organizing committee for Jakarta, said.

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