Linda Colling: ‘Who’s bothered about the Olympics?’

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IT’S one thing selling one for charity and quite another to line your own pocket with a whopping profit from the sale of your Olympic torch.

Just hours after the relay began on Saturday, these sacred symbols were on eBay to the highest bidder. At least 28 torches were listed on the online auction site, with prices ranging from £215 to £125,000.

Profiteering from what should be a treasured souvenir is so at odds with the spirit of the Olympics. And yet I have to smile that it has taken the torch bearers, provoking an outcry to bring the first flash of real interest in what is a non-event and not of that much importance to so very many.

Who’s bothered about the Olympics? It’s astronomical cost has rightly caused controversy. And now this flogging off of torches.

“I want to make the most of it,” Steph Elliot, 21, a Durham University sports student told me. That’s the moment not money, when she runs with the torch in Peterlee on Sunday, June 17.

Financially it’s tempting to think she could pay off a huge chunk of her student debt by putting her torch up for sale.

But Steph, like the majority of runners, won’t be doing that. She is in awe of the daunting sense of occasion and her part in the historic relay: “I have never done anything like this. It’s such a big honour. I don’t feel I really deserve it. I am looking forward to it and making the most of it.”

She was sponsored by the Uni. Each of the runners were offered the chance to buy the torches that cost £495 to make for just £215. One eBay user, calling himself “Biggles Batfink” had attracted bids of £111,450 and promised to throw in a medium-sized torch-bearer uniform for free. That’s serious money for hard-up students and anyone else come to that.

But Steph was adamant: “I don’t want to sell mine. It’s something you would want to treasure and keep.”

Fine principles and to be applauded. One torchbearer was so shamed by the criticism he received he took down his ad. Andrew Bell, 32, who ran his relay in Cornwall, could have genuinely used the money with a new baby and his wife having to return to work.

But it is sad that what should be a precious memento is only seen in hard cash.

Maybe that’s the shift in society today. Once, no matter how strapped for cash people were, they hung on to their medals and heirlooms to pass on to their children and grandchildren. Now everything has a price. And that’s the world we live in.

Sentiment and fine feelings are something that so many don’t have, let alone value enough.

Long after the razmataz, Steph and others like her and Gary Brown, 37, a disabled football coach from Great Lumley, will look back on what was the proudest moment of their life – something they can’t put a price on anymore than their torches.

What does Gary, a dad of two, think of those who are personally profitting from theirs? “I don’t agree with it. It doesn’t seem right. It’s something of sentimental value to remember the occasion and the prestige.”

And something he will be passing on to his children, Megan 11 and Ben, 13, who will doubtless be bursting with pride seeing their dad pushed in his wheelchair carrying his torch aloft – unforgettable and priceless.