SYDNEY — Sydney Games torch relay ran into new trouble on Thursday when the route was changed to allow disgraced Australian IOC member Phil Coles to carry the flame along his beloved Bondi Beach.
In announcing the change, Olympics Minister Michael Knight bestowed an unexpected new name on Australia’s Games site, describing Sydney as the ‘city of redemption’.
Under original relay plans, Coles was to have run on only a street near the famed beach where he has been a surf club member for 50 years. But under the change he will now run his leg on the beach accompanied by young members of his club.
The International Olympic Committee stripped Coles of some of his Sydney Olympic responsibilities in 1999 following revelations that he received lavish gifts and hospitality from the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games bid committee.
Knight said it was appropriate for Coles to carry the torch along one of the world’s most famous beaches.
‘Phil is a guy who made a very substantial contribution to the Olympic movement in Australia,’ Knight said. ‘He obviously made some errors and paid the penalty for that. But Sydney is the city of redemption.’
Two months ago Coles’ fellow Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper landed in hot water when he allowed his 11-year-old daughter Sophie to carry the torch at the start of its relay in Greece, replacing another Sydney schoolgirl who had been due to carry the torch after it was lit at ancient Olympia.
The torch relay through Australia for the September 15 to October 1 Games has been closely followed for signs of how past athletes and personalities rank in status in the eyes of Games organisers.
In details announced on Thursday, Australia’s most celebrated Olympian, swimmer Dawn Fraser, was given a minor role in carrying the torch along a Sydney street on September 14, the night before the opening ceremony.
Knight said he knew nothing of reports that Fraser was disappointed with the decision.
There has been speculation that Fraser, winner of four Olympic gold medals over three Games in the 1950s and 1960s, will be the choice to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
Some of Australia’s greatest athletes will participate in the torch relay’s final route through Sydney. They include Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh, who led the team to last year’s World Cup victory, and Wimbledon tennis finalist Patrick Rafter, a dual United States Open winner.
Australian Olympic swimming great Murray Rose will take the flame from Fraser and hand it to world number one golfer Karrie Webb. Paralympian Louise Sauvage will hand the torch to Australia’s former world number one golfer Greg Norman on Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Entertainer Olivia Newton-John will carry the torch around the Sydney Opera House.
Greg Buckle Reuters