The Olympic Torch Relay dates back to the Nazi Olympics in 1936.
There is a wonderful new academic book called Nazi Games, which gives a concise history of this. The torch relay itself is essentially a PR invention of the Nazi era, and the point of it was to run the torch through parts of Europe that Nazi Germany hoped to take over, including the Sudetenland. So I think if the corporate sponsors of the torch relay really knew the history of this, I can’t imagine that they would want to be associated with it. And the sponsors are Coca Cola, Lenovo, and Samsung…There certainly will be a price to pay in terms of corporate reputation if the torch relay inside China turns into a major human rights debacle.
Minky’s upcoming book: China’s Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges.
My view: The Olympics are essentially about political propaganda and making money. The role of activists and people who are simply engaged and concerned with the issues, both in China and people standing in solidarity with the people living in/under the PRC, is to exploit the inherent weaknesses and flaws of authoritarian propaganda (and it’s private sector corollaries, corporate branding and marketing) and to communicate an alternative message of respect for rule of law, human rights, and basic universal freedoms. We need to brand-jack and culture jam the marketing/propaganda of the Olympics to refocus attention on real issues of human rights and freedoms.