Paris 2024 Olympic Games: history, symbolism, program… Everything you need to know about the Olympic flame which is arriving in Marseille this May 8

Paris 2024 Olympic Games: history, symbolism, program... Everything you need to know about the Olympic flame which is arriving in Marseille this May 8

Laure Manaudou (à gauche) a été la première relayeuse après l'allumage de la flamme à Olympie, le 16 avril. MAXPPP/DPA – Socrates Baltagiannis

The torch relay, which did not exist in the Games of Antiquity, was invented by the Nazis in 1936. A heavy heritage but which now carries values ​​mobilizing sporting and associative movements.

The Paris 2024 organizing committee likes to use the strong symbols that abound in our heritage. And it would be wrong to deprive yourself of it. When the Belem enters the Old Port of Marseille, this May 8, with on board the precious flame lit at Olympia, the image will take its place in this category which flatters our emotions .

Because the last large French sailing ship of the 19th century was launched in Nantes in 1896, the same year that Coubertin exhumed the Olympic Games from the depths of history. Belem has known a thousand lives since – British yacht, Italian training ship – narrowly escaping the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902 and always managing to be reborn from its ashes.

The flame burned for the gods in Olympia

The flame that he will land in Provence, like a new form of liberation, shines with the same immortal radiance. However, there is nothing secular about it if we consider that the Olympic cauldron did not exist in the Games of Antiquity. "The fire which burned in the religious sanctuary of Olympia was mainly lit for the sacrificial ceremonies in honor of the gods which accompanied the trials",recalls Eric Perrin Saminadayar, professor of history and specialist in ancient Greece at Paul-Valéry University.

Security: 6000 police officers mobilized in Marseille

The first very strong moment of these Games, the relay will mobilize 11,000 porters on French territory over 12,000 km, through 400 cities and for 68 days. It also risks being the target of demonstrations of all kinds against a backdrop of social unrest and demands. In this context, the security system will undergo a first, necessarily highly scrutinized test.

From this Wednesday, in Marseille, 6,000 members of the police will be deployed to secure the arrival of the flame. Including the agents of the City of Marseille mobilized (firefighters, security personnel, municipal police officers…), this system will even exceed that put in place in the second city of France in September 2023 for the visit of Pope Francis, which was then described as "out of the norm". Raid police officers, deminers, nautical brigades, anti-drone devices will be deployed. Concerning the Belem parade in the harbor of Marseille, the thousand boats registered will have all been inspected and cleared of mines.

The Ministry of the Interior speaks of a "security bubble" which guarantees "the smooth running of the relay". The police officers involved trained at the Carpiagne military camp, near Marseille. Concerning the arrival of the flame in Hérault on May 13, the Prefecture will communicate this Tuesday on its security system.

"Among the Greeks, competitions were announced by spondophores who went to all the cities, a sort of sacred ambassadors, explains the Montpellier. But this function of the flame which travels through the world did not exist.

The flame, a modern invention of the Dutch

This sacred fire which announces the Olympic Games and transmits a message of peace and friendship to the people is indeed an invention linked to the modern Games but those of the Dutch, the first to install a cauldron during the entire Olympics. For this 1928 edition, in Amsterdam, flame rhymed with women, accepted for the first time in athletics events

Also read: Paris 2024 Olympic Games: "The torch relay, a way to animate souls, to create memories, bonds and cohesion"

A glimmer of hope especially desired by the architect Jan Wils, responsible for the construction of the Olympic stadium, and who wanted the entire city to be able to see that the Games were beating their full.

Hitler draws inspiration from ancient torch races

The Olympic relay would see the light of day eight years later, not really at the initiative of a god but rather of the Devil himself: Adolf Hitler. For his Berlin Games, the Führer wanted, based on an idea from the academic and former athlete Carl Diem, to draw inspiration from another ancient source: youth torch races people organized in Greek cities, mainly in honor of the divinity of fire (Prometheus, Hephaestus)… but not in Olympia.

In 1936, 3 422 porters linked Olympia and Berlin, each walking a kilometer in the shadow of the swastika, carrying a torch made by Krupp, more famous for its production of armaments.

"Today, the relay has a completely different dimension"

Without necessarily showing selective amnesia, the Olympic movement is careful not to highlight the dark origins of this relay which has taken on other values. throughout the Olympics.

"The Nazis appealed to certain fundamentals and the legacy is heavy to bear, recognizes sports sociologist Patrick Mignon. We are not inheriting something that took place in Ancient Greece. The reality is that after Coubertin, each organization put in its two cents to reinvent the place it wanted to occupy. Today, the relay mobilizes retired athletes, the associative and sports movement, education, emulation, which is at the heart of Olympicism. completely different dimension."

From May 13 to 19 in Occitanie

Before entering the Old Port, the Belem will parade throughout the Marseille harbor and will be accompanied by 1,024 boats. After two days of festivities in Marseille on May 8 and 9, the torch relay will cross Provence before entering Occitanie.

On May 13, Millau, Sète and Montpellier, stopover town, will be crossed. On May 15, the flame will be around Perpignan, on May 16 in Aude, before heading towards the former Midi-Pyrénées region until May 19. The flame will visit the country's largest historical monuments and arrive in Paris on July 14 before parading in Île-de-France until July 26, the date of the opening ceremony.

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