Spliffy-Looking Torch, Eh?

If Canadians need something to feel proud about this winter, it’s the sight of a giant spliff being handed from person to person along a 45,000- kilometre route encompassing 1,000 communities.

Under the guise of something called an “Olympic torch,” a metre-long, stainless steel joint designed by aerospace company Bombardier is making a 106- day trip across Canada on the way to Vancouver, where it will spark an enormous bowl — cleverly disguised as an “Olympic cauldron” — on Feb. 12.

I’m only being slightly facetious. Every Olympic torch is supposed to say something about the host country. Back in February 2009, when the Giant Spliff design was unveiled in Whistler, Olympic officials said Bombardier’s creation was emblematic of Canada’s vast expanses of snow.

The white-and-silver staff was supposedly inspired by “the lines carved into the snow by skiers slushing down mountains and the undulating beauty of the snowy Canadian landscape,” VANOC officials told the Vancouver Sun last year.

But Canadians aren’t stupid. We can recognize a subversive joke when we see one. And a joint-shaped torch getting passed from person to person on its way to the Olympic Games in the B.C. Lower Mainland — an area renowned for its marijuana use and production — is about as subtle as The Village People singing it’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.

The VANOC people may not have been in on the joke. Ross Rebagliati, who had 17 billionths of a gram of THC in his system when he won a gold medal in snowboarding for Canada at the 1998 Olympic Games, initially did not receive an invitation to carry one of the flaming spliffs.

Also left off the relay list was Calgary comedian Tommy Chong, B.C. bud activist Marc Emery and the Montreal police officer who thought it was a great idea to whisk Halle Berry past security at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

But somewhere along the way in the design process, Bombardier’s engineers must have been falling all over themselves when they realized they could plausibly present an Olympic Toke to VANOC officials.

I’m hardly the only person who looks at the Olympic torch and sees an entirely different combustible object. “The metre-long white torch looks suspiciously like a marijuana joint, especially when lit,” Toronto Star reporter Petti Fong noted back in May. “The observation has become so common in (Vancouver) that it’s hard to know who was the first to say, ‘Hey, doesn’t that look like …? ‘

Canada deserves a lot of credit for embedding a little wry humour into its Olympic Games, an event that unfortunately takes itself far too seriously. Every time I hear some politician or pundit claim the Olympic flame is emblematic of some jaunty ideal, I feel like vomiting up my morning tea.

The Olympic flame is supposed to symbolize peace on Earth and harmony among its populace. This is a wonderful idea.

But the last time I checked, the planet was mired in conflict, and not just in the places where wars and political unrest bring violence into innocent peoples’ lives. To put it simply, the resources of this planet are not being shared equitably or sustainably among its 6.8 billion human inhabitants. Hundreds of millions don’t have enough to eat, enough to drink or sufficient shelter, clothing and health care.

A competition involving elite athletes does little to address these inequalities. In fact, the Olympic Games have more often been used as a show of might. There was the Nazi display in Berlin in 1936, back-to-back Cold War posturing in Moscow and Los Angeles in the 1980s and China’s not-so-subtle superpower coming-out party in Beijing in 2008.

On a more practical level, the Olympics are about TV ratings, product sales and sponsorship opportunities for both individual athletes and amateur sport programs around the world. I obviously have no problem with any of this.

But the notion that the passing of an Olympic torch somehow signifies worldwide peace and co-operation is at best a saccharine sentiment and at worst a horrible bit of self-delusion and naivete.

The torch relay is a promo for CTV programming, aided by $24.5 million in federal funds. Don’t mind me for enjoying the notion the federal Conservatives sponsored a nationwide marijuana-passing event.

– Article from Winnipeg Free Press.