'The Day the Flame Came to Town': the Olympic flame, symbol, community and commodification

Debates regarding the Olympic Flame Relay oscillate between questions concerning the symbolic value of the Relay and the commodified nature of the Games more generally. While some argue for the potential intercultural understanding that the Flame Relay fosters, others point to the extent to which Olympism is embedded within the practices of commercial companies. Research thus tends to use either ethnographic accounts or media analysis—the former being seen by some as authentic and the latter viewed as capable of capturing the commodified context of such consumption. Attention is given here to its visit to one town and how people experienced the Relay themselves, against its (re)construction in local and national mediated accounts. Data were collected from interviews with those watching the Flame Relay, extensive photographic records, fieldwork observations, and local media coverage of the event. The ritual itself appeared temporary, superficial and contoured by the major sponsors of the Relay. While the Flame had some local significance, claims made for its broader symbolic value appeared muted—people knew less about Olympism and were less moved by its symbolism.