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Row over US Olympic torchbearers
ALMOST half of those due to carry the Olympic Flame through Oxfordshire will be Americans flown over by a corporate sponsor.
People from the county whose applications to carry the torch were turned down have reacted angrily to the news.
Jeanette Howse, a member of Didcot’s Chamber of Commerce, attacked the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) for allowing the American runners – provided by sponsor Coca-Cola – to carry the torch in the county.
Alex Ahmet, 54, from Jericho, who works in sales for a chemical company, is a member of Radley Athletics Club and was shortlisted to carry the torch.
He said: “I’m disgusted that people from Coca-Cola have been given 22 places when I have been told there will about 50 torchbearers in the county.
“It’s far too large a proportion and seems totally wrong when you consider that Oxford is where Roger Bannister first ran a mile in under four minutes.”
Mrs Howse said: “I was nominated to carry the torch because of my work promoting Didcot with the annual street fair, but I was told my application had not been successful.
“I think it’s disappointing that Coca-Cola is flying in these Americans to carry the torch.
“I’m sure more people would come out to watch people from their local community – it’s not the same if it’s someone running for a commercial sponsor.”
The Olympic Torch has been journeying around the UK and will arrive in Oxford on July 9, before a party in South Park.
Oxford City Council leader Bob Price added: “It’s disappointing, but LOCOG has had to take a lot of money from sponsors to make the budget balance.
“I still can’t understand why they have to ship in people from the US to a place they may not have been to before,” he added.
“However, provided the weather is good I think the evening celebration will be a fantastic night.”
LOCOG spokesman Claire Bishop said: “Through our partners and global sponsors a small percentage of runners will come from overseas.
“We’ve always been clear this would be the case – the Games are a global event. A small number people from the UK have run overseas in every previous relay and ours is no different in this respect.
“Overseas torchbearers tend to be grouped together for logistical reasons and each will have made a contribution to their community.”
Coca-Cola spokesman David Godfrey said the 22 Americans were running in Oxfordshire together “for operational reasons”.
The group of 22 American runners is believed to be the largest single group the soft drinks company is looking after.
And he said: “Coca-Cola has 1,350 official torchbearer places which have been awarded to people in recognition of the inspiring work they have done in their local communities, through their passions for activities such as sport, music and dance or protecting the environment.
“Just as with prior relays, where people from the UK have carried the torch in other countries, we have a small number of international torchbearers.”
He added more than 90 per cent of places nationally had been given to members of the public.
The 2012 Olympic Torch will visit 10 towns and villages across Oxfordshire, including Bicester, Woodstock, Oxford and Abingdon, on July 9 and 10.