Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 458

458 Arctic Yearbook 2014 The voyage of the Olympic Torch Relay to the North Pole in October 2013 had a few highlights, and potential political impacts and findings as conclusions. Each of them gives a ground for further discussion and follow-ups, as well as speculations: First, the October North Pole voyage was one of the four special legs of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay – the flame was also brought to outer space, to the top of a high Siberian mountain and to the bottom of the Lake of Baikal – and for the first time the Olympic flame was brought to the North Pole. In international media (e.g. The New York Times on the 19th of December 2013) the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay has raised speculations of misuses, that the Olympic flame has been relit, or emphasising the nationalistic character of the Russian President and government. Indeed, the Sochi Torch Relay is the largest in the history of Olympic Games with its 14,000 legs and thousands of torchbearers. Also the state territory of the Russian Federation is the largest one in the world. And, the Olympic Games are said to be a universal, and indeed global, festival for the people and nations. Based on my personal experiences I am able to state that the Torch Relay to the North Pole was done according to the spirit and rules of the Olympic Games, and there were neither misuses with the flame nor flags. Arctic States’ flags at the North Pole (Organizing committee of Sochi 2014) Second, the Torch Relay to the North Pole had a strong representation of the Arctic states. There was an honour torchbearer from each Arctic state with an equal mandate and her/his own flag. The Russian Olympic Committee could, however, have done this part of the Torch Relay nationally by having only Russian torchbearers, with the Russian flag, as was the case with other three special legs of the Torch Relay. Yet, Russians used the October 2013 voyage to the North Pole as an opportunity to showcase the international cooperation between, and common interests of, the eight Arctic states. This was manifested by the colourful flag show, or flag ‘planting’, on the (sea ice of the) North Pole as the grand finale of the Torch Relay. Indeed, with this strong representation of the international community the voyage was also a showcase of the importance of international Arctic cooperation. Is there a lesson to be learned from the Russian expedition to the (bottom of the) North Pole in August 2007 to retrieve sample sediments, as well as to plant the Russian flag on the sea bottom? Heininen