Whistler will host part of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic torch relay this summer.
On Aug. 29 the Paralympic torch will come to town and be paraded in the resort as a celebration of the Paralympic Games half a world away in China.
“It is still in the initial planning stages,” said Michele Comeau Thompson, manager of communications for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
“But one of the goals is to provide the opportunity for people to learn about the Paralympics and showcase and celebrate Paralympic sport and overall celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The Paralympic torch will come to Whistler from Beijing. After its stop in Whistler it will go to Vancouver, where more celebrations and a running route will also take place. Then it’s on to London, host of the 2012 Summer Games and Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Games.
Security is, of course, part of the planning, said Comeau Thompson.
“We will be including the RCMP in our planning group and certainly security will be taken into consideration in the planning,” she said.
“Of course, we respect the right to peaceful protest and definitely we have been watching what has been happening with the (2008 Olympic) torch relay, but hopefully, even if there is peaceful protest we can still have a great event and celebrate the sports.”
Vancouver is bracing for protests. Hundreds of supporters of a free Tibet plan to protest while the torch is in the city, including about 300 from Washington State and Oregon. The protesters are angry at the violence sparked when the Chinese military quashed pro-independence rallies in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on March 15.
Torchbearers and the Whistler route are still being worked on said Comeau Thompson, but most of the details will be finalized by June.
“One of the exciting things is that we do have a chance to chose the torch bearers and that is part of the upcoming planning in choosing a selection criteria that hopefully involves locals, whether they be people involved in Paralympics, Paralympians, or others who want to get involved,” she said.
The criteria will be conveyed to the community publicly.
There will be two components to the Paralympic torch visit: The first will involve the movement of the torch in Whistler, which may take it to the top of one of the mountains as well as through the town.
The second part will see the torch light a temporary celebratory cauldron with some sort of an official reception, perhaps with music, and Paralympic sport demonstrations.
“It is one of those milestones on the way to our (2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic) Games,” said Comeau Thompson.
“We have heard from the community that people love events like the Paralympic emblem launch, they love the spirit and the opportunity to get together to celebrate, so while this may be smaller we are looking for that same kind of spirit.
“And it is tied to the Beijing Games and they are the last Games before our 2010 Games. All eyes will turn to us after Beijing so it is a real milestone timeframe for us.”
Comeau Thompson said the event would also help people learn more about the Paralympics and the athletes who compete.
“It is still something that a lot of people don’t know a lot about and it is really inspiring… so hopefully it will be a great opportunity to get inspired,” she said.
A group is being formed to work on the event in Whistler, and includes the RMOW, Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb, the RCMP, and the Whistler Adaptive Sport Program.
The relay is organized by the International Paralympic Committee and the organizing committee for the Beijing Summer 2008 Games. The federal government and the Canadian Paralympic Committee are also involved in the planning.
The Paralympic Games take place from Sept. 6 to 17 th in Beijing.