Olympic flame to visit Ireland

2011-12-08 18:22

Lausanne - The Olympic flame will be going to Ireland for the first time during the lead-up to next year's London Games.

The International Olympic Committee on Thursday approved London's proposal for the torch relay to visit Dublin on June 6, 2012, in a symbolic gesture of peace and political goodwill.

After human rights protests marred the international torch relay before the 2008 Beijing Games, the IOC ruled that future relays should take place only within the host countries.

However, the IOC executive board agreed to make an exception for the London flame to leave the UK and travel from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.

The flame will arrive in the UK from Greece on May 18, kicking off a 70-day, 8 000-mile relay involving 8 000 torchbearers. The relay will culminate with the lighting of the cauldron during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27.

Negotiations to take the torch to Ireland have been going on for months. The proposal won the support of Olympic officials, political leaders and security forces from the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Sebastian Coe, head of the London organising committee, told a Parliamentary hearing last month that taking the flame to Ireland "would speak eloquently and powerfully for sport."

The torch relay, expected to cross the border from the Northern Ireland border town of Newry, will come five years after the territory's British Protestant and Irish Catholic leaders formed a unity government. Such power-sharing was the central aim of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998, which sought to leave behind a three-decade conflict that left 3 700 dead.

The crossing of the torch into the Republic of Ireland also recognises the reality that many of Ireland's athletes, north and south, must choose whether to compete for Britain or Ireland. Some Olympic sports draw athletes from both parts of Ireland onto the Irish team, while others require Northern Ireland-based athletes to compete for Britain.