Investigation into today’s torchbearers in German daily Der Tagesspiegel

der Tagesspiegel's story on the corporate Olympic torchbearers

German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel has published a story on German executives carrying the Olympic torch after spotting our list of ‘mystery torchbearers‘ on the Guardian’s datablog.

The story, entitled ‘The Olympics and Samsung: Questionable selection of torchbearers’, was published on Sunday. In it, Claudia von Salzen writes:

“As the list of German participants shows, those people nominated by Samsung have apparently been accepted. This means that at least 18 German torchbearers have been chosen out of business interests. And therefore actually not because they had “excelled at special merits in the spirit of the Olympic idea”, as the company had announced in May.”

We’ve translated the entire article into English below:

This week, there will also be German torchbearers lining up in Great Britain. But a lot of them owe their participation in particular to their good connections with the sponsor Samsung: They are managers or business partners of the electronics company.

Bearing the Olympic torch is a once in a lifetime opportunity – the dream of a lot of sport enthusiasts. Before this summer’s Olympic Games, 8000 bearers will carry the Olympic flame all across Great Britain, until it arrives in the Olympic Stadium in London after 70 days. Most of the torchbearers are British, but this week there will also be Germans lining up. However, a lot of them have neither excelled athletically nor in engagement with society.

They know more about mobile phones, printers and flatscreens than Olympic disciplines. According to Der Tagesspiegel’s research the majority of the German torchbearers are primarily participating thanks to a special relationship to the sponsor Samsung: they are managers at the electronic company, business partners or journalists.

As one of three sponsors presenting the torch relay, the South Korea based company had the right to nominate torchbearers. Before the games the company was publicly calling for “people who are socially engaged” to apply. According to a spokeswoman, Samsung Germany is sending 35 bearers to Great Britain – they will be carrying the Olympic torch this Monday and Tuesday. “Social engagement and a special personal commitment have qualified the 35 bearers to be part of the torch relay in Brighton and Hastings”, the company previously stated at the end of May.

But reality’s different: Among 26 of the participants who are known by name by Der Tagesspiegel and supposed to be carrying the Olympic torch on Monday and Tuesday, nine alone work for Samsung Germany – with at least six managers amongst them. But the company also thought of their own clients: Another six torchbearers are managers of electronic retail stores. Moreover there are two journalists, regularly writing about new mobile phones, also Samsung devices, who are allowed to go to London.

A Berliner is also taking part in the torch relay

Fabien Röhlinger from Berlin is also taking part. The 37-old is the founder of a website dedicated to the mobile phone operating system Android – a system which runs on Samsung´s mobile phones. In his blog Röhlinger reports that, through his work, he would regularly be dealing with the company. “It was Samsung itself calling my attention to a great competition. They were searching for three German journalists to participate at the Olympic torch relay”, he writes. At the same time Röhlinger emphasises that Samsung would have “no impact” on the final selection of the participants. This would solely be down to the Olympic committee.

As the list of German participants shows, those people nominated by Samsung have apparently been accepted. This means that at least 18 German torchbearers have been chosen out of business interests. And therefore actually not because they had “excelled at special merits in the spirit of the Olympic idea”, as the company had announced in May.

A spokeswoman of Samsung Germany confirmed that there would also be “several employees and business partners” amongst the German bearers. She did not mention any numbers though. “At the same time the main focus for Samsung was to name someone, who ´went the extra mile´, that is to say who is especially socially engaged or inspires others in a special way”, the spokeswoman added.

The website of the London Olympics should usually show a short story about each of the 8000 torchbearers, explaining why he or she was nominated. Amongst a lot of Germans, who stand out because of their connections with Samsung, this column stays empty. There can be no talk of transparency here. According to research by British journalists, there are about 500 of those “mystery torchbearers”. Samsung not only sent their own managerial staff from Germany, but also other countries. As a result this event, which should originally symbolise the Olympic idea, is in danger of becoming a motivational event for merited employees and important clients instead.

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