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Olympic Flame handed to China amid protests March 31, 2008

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31-03-08_flame1.jpg  Actress Maria Nafpliotou in the role of a high priestess holds the torch next to the altar with the Olympic Flame during the handover ceremony at a stadium in Athens yesterday. More than 2,000 uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed in the capital at the weekend to ensure the smooth handover of the flame.

31-03-08_flame2.jpg  Greek officials handed over the Olympic Flame to organizers of the Beijing Games yesterday amid minor protests by a pro-Tibetan group. The ceremony was held at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were staged in 1896.

31-03-08_flame3.jpg  Hundreds of police lined the flame’s route, scores of security vehicles followed the torch-bearers and helicopters hovered overhead, the strictest security measures since torch relays were launched at the 1936 Berlin Games.

31-03-08_flame4.jpg  “In 130 days the 2008 Beijing Olympics begin. We and the other nations of the world look forward to this moment,” said Beijing Games organizing chief Liu Qi before accepting the flame. The Games run from August 8 to 24.

31-03-08_flame5.jpg  Protesters holding Tibetan flags and shouting “Free Tibet” and “China out of Tibet” failed to break through the police cordon and get to the final torch-bearer entering the stadium. Police detained 21 Greeks and foreigners for staging the protests but said they would be released later. Several others were moved away from police cordons.

31-03-08_flame6.jpg  Thousands of Greek and Chinese spectators inside the stadium watched as Greek triple jumper Chrysopigi Devetzi carried the torch into the stadium lined with Greek and Chinese flags. Greek Presidential Guards and actresses dressed as ancient priestesses looked on. On Saturday and Sunday, about 2,000 police were deployed around Athens.

31-03-08_flame7.jpg  The torch will be officially welcomed in China today before beginning a worldwide relay, the longest ever, 130 days and covering 137,000 kilometers. Most of it will be on Chinese soil.

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Olympic Flame handed over to China March 30, 2008

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Thousands of spectators gathered in Athens for Sunday’s handover ceremony of the Olympic flame to organizers of the Beijing Games.

30-03-08_panathinaic_stadium.jpg  The Olympic Flame has been officially handed over to Chinese officials. The ceremony took place at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, amid tight security. It comes as demonstrations continue in numerous countries over China’s deadly crackdown on protesters in Tibet. On Saturday EU Foreign Ministers agreed on a joint response. The bloc called for an end to violence and urged China to hold talks on Tibetan cultural and religious rights.

However, the Ministers avoided any mention of the Beijing Olympics or calls for EU countries to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing. A small group of pro-Tibet activists tried to stop the flame from reaching the stadium but were held back by police. Demonstrations were also held in other parts of Athens.

30-03-08_athens_torch1.jpg  Thousands of Greek and Chinese spectators cheered as Greek triple jumper Hrysopigi Devetzi carried the torch into the stadium, lined with the flags of both countries.

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30-03-08_athens_torch3.jpg  Greek Presidential Guards and actresses dressed as ancient priestesses looked on.

“It was an emotional experience for me,” Devetzi said. “I hope the flame will bring light to all athletes, especially those from Greece and that everything with the Games goes well.”

The President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Minos Kyriakou, delivered the flame to chief Beijing organizer Liu Qi. The torch later left Athens on a specially equipped Air China flight expected to arrive in Beijing on Monday.

Witnesses say the protesters, waving Tibetan flags and chanting anti-Chinese slogans, were arrested in Athens Sunday while trying to break through police lines to stop a runner carrying the torch from reaching the handover site. Hundreds of Greek police officers were on alert, after sporadic protests last week along the torch relay route from ancient Olympia.

The torch will be flown from Athens to Beijing, where runners will carry it across much of the world in the run-up to the August Summer Games. Pro-Tibetan activists have vowed to shadow the torch on its journey. On one leg of the route, the torch is set to pass through Tibet on its way to Mt. Everest. Human rights groups are demanding a ban on that part of the journey, until Beijing agrees to permit an international investigation of the Tibetan unrest.

More photos from today’s ceremony follow shortly. Stay tuned!

Olympics protest threat grows March 29, 2008

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The Olympic Torch will arrive in Athens today ahead of its handover to Beijing officials amid heavy security with authorities anxious to prevent a repetition of protests that disrupted the flame’s lighting ceremony earlier this week.

Activists and Tibetan demonstrators disrupted the globally televised Beijing torch-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia on Monday, breaking a tight security cordon and unfurling protest banners during the Games organizing chief’s speech. Further protests marred the start of the relay, with demonstrators lying on the ground in front of the vehicle convoy accompanying the torch-bearers in Olympia and holding up the relay several times.

“We are planning several actions for Sunday and Monday in Athens to demonstrate against China, for sure,” Students for a Free Tibet representative Tashi Sering told Reuters. “On Monday, we will also have a peace march in central Athens.”

29-03-08_olympic_torch.jpg  The Olympic Flame will depart for China on Monday. More than 2,000 officers are to be deployed around the Greek capital this weekend. The Flame will reach the capital today, spending the night on the Acropolis. Media have been banned from the Acropolis during the flame’s arrival. A ceremony to mark the handing over of the flame will also be held at the Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens tomorrow in front of an estimated 20,000 people.

Greek officials kept details of the route’s Athens leg under tight wraps yesterday, fearing further protest action. Police said the precise route was not being made public for security reasons.

A Greek human rights group said yesterday police prevented its members from displaying a banner saying “No to the games of blood, dope and kickbacks” along the relay route in the city of Volos, and arrested one protester. Also, a group of Danish activists said police stopped 10 of its members dressed in orange from being “a peaceful part of the torch relay” near the city of Larissa. The event was organized by a group led by Danish artist Jens Galschioet.

Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens March 26, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Greek Culture Heritage, Olympic Games, Sports & Games.
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University of Sydney historian explains why he thinks evidence suggests that sporting activity did not help promote peace in ancient Greece

26-03-08_ancient_olympia1.jpg  26-03-08_ancient_olympia2.jpg  Male dancers (above) form the Olympic circles with olive branches during a rehearsal for the lighting of the flame in Ancient Olympia, where the Olympics were born in 776 BC. Actress Maria Nafpliotou (right), in her role as the high priestess at the actual ceremony on Monday, holds up the Olympic Flame after it was lit using the sun’s rays.

Sport in ancient Athens has long been a paradox for ancient historians. The world’s first democracy may have opened up politics to everybody but it had no impact on sporting life. Athletics continued to be an exclusive pursuit of wealthy citizens.

In spite of this, the vast majority of the citizens, who as poor men were very critical of the aristocracy, actually lavished time and public money on sporting competitions and facilities, esteemed elite sports stars above all other public figures and handed international victors the metaphorical keys to the city.

Recent scholarship on sport and war helps us solve this baffling state of affairs. In the lead-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, we are constantly reminded of the cherished belief of the Olympic movement that international sport reconciles hostile countries and encourages world peace.

As noble as this may be, a generation of scholarship has shown this belief to be almost entirely false. Sport and war – we know now – often manifest the same values and practices, such as aggressiveness and cruelty, and tend to legitimize each other. As such, the military hyperactivity of the ancient Athenian democracy gives us a clue to understanding the paradox of its sporting life.

Panathenaia > The Athenians provided tens of thousands of liters of sacred olive oil and silver crowns as prizes for sportsmen at their local games of the Great Panathenaia. This was the large-scale version of the city’s annual festival in honor of its patron deity, Athena, which was staged every four years.

It included over a hundred contests or bouts, not just in athletics and the athletic team event of the torch race, but also in horsemanship, music and choral singing. The people of Athens also carefully administered and renovated the city’s athletics fields and witnessed a massive expansion in the number of wrestling schools.

They awarded free meals and front-row seating at their regular sporting and cultural events for life to those citizens who had won an athletic or equestrian event at one of the Panhellenic or international games, which were staged,every two or four years at Isthmia, Nemea, Delphi and, of course, Olympia.

Since these were the democracy’s highest honors, their granting to athletic victors points to an extraordinarily high estimation of these stars. Such a high regard of athletes also left its mark on the irreverent comedies of the 5th century BC, in which the city’s athletes were the only group in the public eye to escape the abuse and ridicule of the comic poets.

For the youths of classical Athens, training in athletics was given in the regular school classes of the athletics teacher. Isocrates explains how they instruct their pupils in “the moves devised for competition,” train them in athletics, accustom them to toil and compel them to combine each of the lessons they have learnt. According to this Athenian philosopher, all of this turns pupils into competent athletic competitors as long as they have some natural talent.

Sports and learning > Often athletics teachers are represented in Athenian art as giving classes in wrestling or in the other “heavy” events of boxing and the “no holds barred” pankration, which is an unsurprising state of affairs, as many of these teachers owned wrestling schools and some had been victors in such events in their youth. Nonetheless we also find athletics teachers training their charges in the standard “track and field” events of ancient Greek athletics.

Predictably the expense of buying and raising horses ensured that contestants in the chariot and horse races would always be those Aeschylus calls the “super-rich,” such as leading politicians, tyrants and Kings. More surprising is that athletics was out of reach to the vast majority of Athenians.

Since the Athenian state did not finance nor administer education, each family made its own decisions about how long their sons would attend school and whether they would pursue each of the three traditional disciplines: athletics, music and letters.

The Athenians understood very well that the number of educational disciplines a boy could pursue and the length of his schooling depended on the resources of his family. Money determined not only whether a family could pay the fees of the letter teacher, lyre [a musical instrument] teacher and athletics teacher but also whether they could give their sons the required leisure to pursue disciplines that were taught concurrently.

Most poor citizens needed their children and wives to help out with family farming or business concerns. As a result, poor Athenian families passed over music and athletics and sent their sons only to the lessons of the letter teacher, which they believed to be the most useful for moral and practical instruction.

Thus it was only wealthy boys who received instruction in each of the three disciplines of education. Without school-based training in athletics, which everyone recognized as necessary for effective competition, poor youths simply did not enter athletics contests. In the world’s first democracy, sport was only practiced by wealthy Athenians.

There were other activities in classical Athens, such as the drinking party, horsemanship, pederastic homosexuality and political leadership, which were also the exclusive preserves of the wealthy.

However these upper-class pursuits – in contrast to athletics – were ridiculed and heavily criticized in the debates and public conversations of the democracy. Poor Athenians may have hoped to enjoy, one day, the lifestyle of the rich, but they still had problems with their exclusive pursuits, frequently associating them with stereotypical misdeeds of this social class.

Into battle > Critically, classical Athenians thought of and described athletic contests and battle with a common set of concepts and words. Most importantly, both were considered an agon or a contest decided by mutually agreed rules.

Today, when even democracies sometimes wage war contrary to international law and break the Geneva Convention, it is hard to recognize that European warfare was once a highly regulated activity and viewed as an honorable way to settle disputes between states.

The battles of the ancient Greeks were no exception, being conducted according to a shared set of nomoi or customs. Thus a Greek city informed another of its intention to attack by sending a herald. By agreement, their phalanxes of heavy infantrymen met on an agricultural plain. After hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the decisive moment was the trope or turning, when the hoplites of one side broke up and ran for their lives.

The victors only pursued them for a short distance, as they had much left to do on the field of battle. There they collected the bodies of their dead comrades, stripped the bodies of the enemy, and used some of the weapons and armor so acquired to set up a trophaion or trophy. When the defeated had time to regroup, they sent a herald to those controlling the battlefield for a truce to collect their dead. Custom dictated that the victors could not honorably refuse this request.

The citizens of classical Athens also thought battle and athletics involved the same ideals and tribulations. Both activities were recognized as involving ponoi or painful toils bring honor and kindinoi or dangers, with athletes, especially in the “heavy” events, frequently being injured, maimed or killed.

They believed it was the arete or manly excellence of individual soldiers and athletes, inherited from ancestors, and the support of gods and demigods, which secured nike or victory. Victory brought fame to the city of athlete and soldier, while defeat or the refusal to compete, in either activity, was a sign of cowardice and a cause of personal shame.

Although Athenian warfare, before the democracy, was a predominantly upper-class activity, the democratic revolution of the late 6th century BC subjected warfare to a profound democratization practically and ideologically. With the creation of a city-based army of hoplites, the construction of a massive war fleet, in the late 480s, and the introduction of state pay for military service, soldiering – like politics – was opened to every class of Athenian.

Democracy > To fight and, if necessary, die for the city became the solemn duty of all citizens, which, in an unprecedented era of Athenian bellicosity, they did with disturbing regularity. Warfare was now the main public expenditure and business of the Athenian democracy and its martial achievements were glorified in public speech, drama and public art and architecture.

Critically the egalitarianism of the democracy resulted in the traditional values of war, such as arete and ponoi, which had once been the preserve of the heroes of Homer and the aristocrats of the pre-democratic era, being recognized in the military actions of rich and poor citizens alike, whether they served as heavily armed infantrymen or sailors.

This democratic ethos also saw every Athenian soldier given equal credit for the city’s military victories and – if killed in action – a sumptuous funeral and veneration as a demigod. Every Athenian soldier was now treated like Achilles or Hector.

This democratization of war had a profound impact on the standing of athletics. Poor Athenians came to believe that upper-class athletes exhibited the same moral qualities and experienced the same ordeals as they did when fighting battles.

This affinity of theirs with the values of sport ruled out serious criticism of sportsmen in public discourse and underwrote the exceptionally high estimation of athletics. In short, the democratic style of war in classical Athens legitimized and supported elite sport.

Dr David Pritchard is an ancient historian at the University of Sydney. He will be speaking at the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens, 2 Promachou Street, Makriyianni, Athens, on April 1 at 7 p.m. This talk is free and open to the general public.

Copyright notice > Article by Dr David Pritchard for the Greek daily Kathimerini. All rights reserved.

Ancient Olympia protesters are released March 26, 2008

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Outburst prompts reactions > Three human rights demonstrators arrested for disrupting Monday’s flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia to protest China’s crackdown in Tibet were freed yesterday.

The three French journalists, members of the French media rights group Reporters Without Borders, said they had not intended to criticize Greece but to contest Beijing’s right to host this year’s Olympics.

It seemed that their outburst had some impact. Questioned by reporters after the incident, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would consider a personal boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony if China refuses to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Tibet. «All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders’ sense of responsibility» Sarkozy said. The White House said US President George W. Bush still intends to attend the Games.

The incident embarrassed Greek authorities, who had planned a large-scale security operation. The three protesters bypassed guards to access the ancient Olympia site. One ran up behind a Chinese Olympic official who had been delivering a speech to a large crowd of dignitaries, including Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, and unfurled a black flag depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

The disruption was aired briefly on state television, which then cut away from the protester being dragged off by police and zoomed in on the Chinese spokesman. In China, state television did not broadcast the incident, cutting to prerecorded footage. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials yesterday condemned «these elements of sabotage and chaos.»

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros also criticized «actions that have nothing to do with the Olympic spirit

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, who was also at the ceremony, said, «It is always sad to see such a ceremony disrupted.» Before the ceremony, Rogge had admitted to fearing possible hijacks of the torch relay.

The torch yesterday reached Ioannina in northwestern Greece. The flame is to be handed over to the Chinese in a ceremony at Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium on March 30.

For further reading and related video clips click > here

State-controlled Chinese media never mention of it > protests at Olympic Torch Ceremony March 26, 2008

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State-controlled Chinese media made no mention of it after a protester evaded security and ran up behind Beijing Olympic organizing committee President Liu Qi as he was giving his speech during Monday’s Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony in Ancient Olympia, Greece.

25-03-08_olympics1.jpg  The image and the report of the protester unfurling a black banner, the Olympic rings replaced by handcuffs, appeared around the world in newspapers, on Web sites and on television broadcasts. But not in China.

25-03-08_olympics2.jpg  After the torch left the Ancient Olympia Stadium, a Tibetan woman covered in red paint or dye lay in the road approaching the town of Olympia while other protesters chanted “Free Tibet” and “Shame on China.”

Greek Police said the woman and the three members of Reporters Without Borders were detained. One of the men arrested was Robert Menard, the group’s general secretary. The three Frenchmen were charged with the misdemeanor count of offending national symbols. They were released pending trial in late May, and said they hoped to return to France on Tuesday.

25-03-08_olympics3.jpg  When the incident took place China state-run TV cut away just before the protests on Monday and showed a prerecorded scene, preventing Chinese viewers from seeing the incident. Chinese TV commentators never mentioned the incident. The TV coverage was broadcast with a slight delay, allowing censors to intervene.

Three men advocating press freedom evaded security and ran onto the field and were seized by police. Watch the videos.

Video > http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=78703

Video > http://video.news.sky.com/skynews/video/?&videoSourceID=1310413&flashURL=/feeds/skynews/latest/flash/olympicsjoshi_p4199.flv

Video > http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid959009704?bclid=1350269312&bctid=1472339944

Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony > photo galleries March 24, 2008

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Please note that in some cases, it’s advisable to click on each photo in order to view it in full mode.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused. We hope you will enjoy the 3 photo galleries just uploaded.

May the true Olympic Spirit and the Olympic Truce shine all over the world and bring back precious Peace!