Paralympic torch relay won’t visit Whistler 

Earthquake cited as reason for cancellation of event planned for August

The 2008 Parlaympic torch relay will not be visiting Whistler, Vancouver or any of the other international destinations it was set to stop at in August.

The relay will also follow a modified route inside of China.

At the root of the change, states a press release from the International Paralympic Committee, is the earthquake that struck China in May.

“According to BOCOG (the Beijing Organizing Committee), those changes have been made to afford the Chinese government to focus on the rescue and relief work and show support for the people affected by the earthquake, especially persons with a disability,” it said.

“The necessary changes to the Paralympic Torch Relay include shortened national routes, simplified procedures and the cancellation of the international route of the relay which was due to pass through Vancouver/Whistler (Canada), London (Great Britain) and Sochi (Russia) later this year.”

The cancellation has not been officially confirmed by BOCOG.

This would have been the first time that the Paralympic torch was taken to international destinations and the IPC was looking forward to the opportunity to raise the profile of the Paralympics.

“…It would have offered unique opportunities to raise further awareness for the Paralympic Games and acceptance of people with a disability around the world,” states the release.

Said IPC President Sir Philip Craven: “The Paralympic Torch Relay is a tradition dating back to 1988 that hails the coming of the Games and celebrates the values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality to which the Paralympic Movement aspires.

“The IPC wants to thank the cities of the international route for their great enthusiasm and support during the preparations for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Torch Relay.”

The news was greeted with disappointment in Whistler, where the torch relay was to have visited on Aug. 29.

“What a shame,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

“We were quite excited about the opportunity to raise the profile of the Paralympics in Beijing and then subsequently the Winter Parlaympics here in 2010.

“It is a missed opportunity. But our goal is to continue to work to raise the profile of the Paralympics and particularly the Winter Paralympics. It is a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous celebration of athleticism, and it is building a strong society and celebrating human potential.”

BOCOG had first approached the City of Vancouver with the idea of having the 2008 torch relay visit the hosts of the 2010 Games, said Melamed.

Both Vancouver and Whistler could immediately see the potential, as could the Canadian Parlaympic Committee, said Chief Operating Officer Brian MacPherson who learned of the cancellation unofficially last Thursday.

“From our point of view it was a great promotional opportunity and as we got closer to it there was a bit more excitement behind the scenes in terms of people jumping on board with the planning, so we are a bit surprised, but it is their decision to make not ours,” he said from his Ottawa base this week.

“We are disappointed.”

In the conversations MacPherson had around the cancellation, security was raised as one of the main reasons for calling it off.

“They basically cited security concerns,” said MacPherson.

While BOCOG did not seem to be too worried about Vancouver and Whistler they worried about London and Sochi after the experience with the torch relay for the Olympic Games.

Protests, some violent, around China’s treatment of Tibet followed the Olympic relay around the globe and were covered extensively by the media.

“…They just didn’t want to go there again,” said MacPherson.

Losing the 2008 torch relay will not seriously impact the CPC’s plan to get the Paralympics into the limelight. An ambassador program is well underway with high performance athletes attending public events to raise awareness.

In the last few weeks alone athletes bound for Beijing have starred at CFL Toronto Argonauts and Toronto Blue Jays0 games.

And in the last three months Paralympians have spoken at 60 events.

“…We have seen a real spike in the number or groups, service clubs, schools and corporations who are interested in hearing from some of our athletes,” said MacPherson.

Many will also be at Canada Day celebrations.

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