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Visitors stand on cement barriers behind a fence to take souvenir photos of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Visitors stand on cement barriers behind a fence to take souvenir photos of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence! Add to ...

There is no symbol of the Olympic spirit more magnetic than the Olympic flame. For many, the Olympic value of "sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity" is made real by this flame.

But today, after its triumphant arrival in Vancouver, the flame sits in an enclosure, confined like a wild animal.

Why? The following message must be sent to John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee: Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence!

The flame's journey from Olympia, Greece, to BC Place is one of Mr. Furlong's proudest legacies. It was a truly national endeavour; over a thousand communities in every province and territory hosted it on its journey; around 12,000 Canadians had the honour of acting as torchbearers; millions saw it in person or saw its journey recounted in the media. It precipitated a great coming-together of Canadians. The speculation around who would be the final torchbearer is a testament to the esteem with which the flame, and the cauldrons that house it for the duration of the games, are held.

And after Wayne Gretzky hopped into the back of a truck, riding from BC Place to the waterfront to light the five permanent cauldrons, Vancouverites followed - a spontaneous display of affection of crowds who wanted to join the Great One in making the Olympic dream real.

But today? That cauldron and its flame are swathed in steel wire, ringed by a chain-link fence. The fence keeps onlookers at Jack Poole Plaza 50 metres away. You can see the flame, barely, by craning your neck; you dare not feel it.

The fence, to be blunt, is a travesty, as artless as the flame is beautiful.

Neck-craning visitors are appalled. "So incredibly wrong," said one. Another called it "obscene."

It also serves no real purpose. It supposedly keeps the crowds away from the International Media Centre, but journalists need no such protection. A Plexiglas barrier, a solution VANOC has mooted, would be a visual improvement, but no less of a deterrent. Other open flames, such as the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill, function without barriers. Surely alternatives, including security provided by people, are available.

Olympic values are fundamentally democratic. When the flame was in motion, Olympic organizers put it in the service of the people. It is now time to let the people see it up close.

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