Overseas runners welcomed ahead of Olympic relay

The London 2012 Olympic Torch will be carried by 8,000 inspirational torchbearers
The London 2012 Olympic Torch will be carried by 8,000 inspirational torchbearers
Portsmouth Guildhall Picture: Garth Groombridge

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OVERSEAS runners who will help take the Olympic torch through Portsmouth this July will be welcomed with open arms, a councillor says.

The torch reaches our region in July and will travel from Fareham to Portsmouth on Sunday, July 15, before an evening celebration on Southsea Common. It will depart the next morning.

Not all the 35 runners are from the Portsmouth area – some are from elsewhere in the UK. And two are from even further afield

Franck Aragnou, 39, from Moret Sur Loing in France, and Bianca Kopp, 31, from Vienna in Austria, will run through Portsmouth with the iconic flame on July 15.

Cllr Lee Hunt, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for culture, says the European runners will be welcomed.

He said: ‘Portsmouth wants to be a world destination and to have representatives from other places is welcome.

‘We welcome athletes from all over the world to this country for the Olympic Games.

‘We embrace other nationalities and cultures already.

‘We have people living here from other countries and it’s a thriving, multicultural city.’

Games organisers say the inclusion of runners from overseas reflects the multinational spirit of the Games.

A spokesman said: ‘Through our partners, such as the International Olympic Committee and global sponsors a small percentage of runners will come from overseas.

‘We’ve always been clear this would be the case – the Games are a global event.

‘A small number of people from the UK have run overseas in previous relays and ours is no different in this respect. They tend to be grouped together for logistical reasons and each will have a personal story or will have made a contribution to their community.’

There was controversy in 2008 as torchbearers were attacked in London and Paris ahead of the Beijing games.

The relay was traditionally held across the world – but will only travel around the UK before the spectacle kicks off in London this July.

Games organisers say this decision was made by the IOC in March 2009 and say it will use new media and digital technology to communicate our messages globally.