Should Olympic Torch Bearers Be Allowed to Cash In?

When you look at the numbers involved, perhaps it was always going to end this way.

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Simon Chapman/London News Pictures/

The Olympic torch is carried through the town of Wells, 22 May 2012.

Who isn’t a sucker for the story of the Olympic Flame? The journey begins when it’s lit at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece, all thanks to the power of the sun. From there, it travels across the country that gave birth to the modern Olympiad before being brought over to the nation hosting the Olympic Games. The flame travels the length and breadth of the land, with each torch “kissing” the next one along the relay route, before coming to its resting place at the opening ceremony when the last of the many thousands of torch bearers lights a cauldron inside the Olympic Stadium.

So far, so symbolic, right? But stories are emerging from Britain that, ahead of the London Olympics, some entrepreneurial torch bearers are trying to cash in on their prestigious role by selling their own torch for as much as possible to the highest bidder. It’s been reported that as many as six torches have already sold for over $150,000 on eBay, although it’s unknown whether the transactions were genuine or a hoax.

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But when you look at the numbers involved, commercialism is inevitable. Consider: 8,000 runners traveling some 8,000 miles across the U.K. carried the potential for monetary gain. Each and every runner taking part in the 70-day relay was offered to purchase the torch that they carried at the discounted cost of $314, rising to $339 if purchased on the day.

Many runners will hold on to their torches, as a memento of a truly special day. But some see it differently. The most high-profile sale is arguably by Sarah Milner Simonds, from Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset, who reportedly made $242,000. But here’s where the story takes an interesting twist: it’s believed that she’s using the money for charity with the funds going toward a community allotment. “Obviously it has really upset people but I think that it’s not something that is really me to keep my shiny trophy on a mantelpiece when it is obvious how much good one can do with the money that someone might be willing to pay for it,” she told the Daily Telegraph, mentioning that she’s also received abusive emails from people. “It is an extraordinary amount of money, but of course when I realized that the first torch was on eBay and sold for over £3,000 ($4,740) I thought ‘Oh my gosh, that is obscene, imagine what good you could do with £3,000.'”

It appears that the organizers hands are tied. A spokeswoman said that “The torches are the torch bearers’ to do what they want with them — we hope they find a good home.” But some individuals are putting the word out that their torch is for sale before they’ve even run the roughly 300m distance with it. “I am running in the Olympic Torch Relay in Carlisle on 20th June 2012 and will have the Official Olympic Torch and Official Olympic Torch Stand for sale,” one seller wrote. “This is a 100% genuine Torch and Stand which will be posted at the first available postage date after I have received the torch following the run on June 20th.”

But both sellers as well as buyers need to be aware. Sophia Cowburn put her torch on sale on eBay to raise funds for the Invictus Trust charity (Cowburn founded it after her twin brother, Ben, killed himself after battling depression). The top bid was $238,000 in an auction which attracted some 226 bids. But the 19-year-old learned a harsh lesson, telling the BBC that “the bidding closed and then a few moments after we found out it was a hoax bidder.” (The winning buyer hasn’t been available for comment.)

The moral line is clearly a tricky one. But when an opportunity to cash in arises, people can rarely resist. The first torchbearer in the U.K. was Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie, who said that he would find a “special place” in his house for his torch.

For some torchbearers, that “special place” seems to be the internet, which can create a “special sound” – cha-ching.
PHOTOS: Greece Lights Olympic Torch