Gansu to see torch again in surprise route change

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 June, 2008, 12:00am

An unexpected change to the Olympic torch relay announced yesterday by Games organisers has drawn yet more attention to the seemingly capricious manner in which the agency decides the route of the flame.

For the first time since the torch set off on its journey around the world in early April, the flame will be carried through a location twice - it arrived in Dongfeng Space City in Gansu yesterday and will return to the province next Saturday. The torch had been scheduled to stay in Gansu for three days.

But visitors to the official torch website could be forgiven for overlooking the news. The change is only mentioned in an inconspicuous list of cities and - as of last night - only on the Chinese version of the site.

Asked about the route change, a staff member of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games said it was administrative.

'Though it is geographically located inside Gansu on a map, Dongfeng Space City, in fact, has nothing to do with the Gansu provincial government. It does not belong to Gansu. As a result, we treated the space city in Jiuquan and other Gansu cities separately when mapping out the timetable,' the staff member told the Sunday Morning Post. She was reluctant to discuss, however, whether Space City, which is widely considered by the public to be a military base, was under Beijing's direct control.

Another Bocog member was not certain why the change was made.

'I am also not clear ... whether the sudden changes in recent days are related to the earthquake,' the staffer said. The magnitude-8 earthquake which struck Sichuan on May 12 badly damaged parts of Gansu.

The change to the route has drawn criticism from many sports fans in Beijing who feel Bocog's changes confound common sense.

'It is hard for me to understand why such a clear line should be drawn between geography and administrative affiliation,' said Zhao Bin, a university student.

Earlier, Bocog unexpectedly cancelled the relay in Shannan prefecture in Tibet. The Sichuan quake was cited as the reason for this by Bocog spokesman Sun Weide on June 17, although concern over possible disruptions from activists seeking independence for Tibet was seen as the real reason.

At the closing ceremony for the Tibet relay leg in Lhasa , regional party boss Zhang Qingli reasserted Beijing's hard line towards supporters of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The speech was later condemned by the International Olympic Committee.