MOSCOW, October 9 (RIA Novosti) – A pro-Kremlin movement criticized the Russian organizers of the upcoming Winter Games late Tuesday, and called for a criminal investigation into the unreliability of the Siberian-made Olympic torch that has repeatedly gone out during the opening stages of a nationwide relay.
“The assurances of the organizers, [who say] that it is an ordinary situation when the flame is not lit, are unconvincing,” said Mikhail Starshinov, a State Duma Deputy and senior member of the People’s Front movement, which is headed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Any normal person would have several questions. Why were 16,000 torches made? How much does each torch cost? Is this price reasonable? And, finally, why do they work badly?”
The Olympic torch first went out Sunday as it was being carried through the Kremlin, moments after the relay was officially launched by Putin in a televised ceremony on Red Square. The flame was re-lit by a nearby official with a cigarette lighter.
After the incident, the head of Sochi Organizing Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko blamed the mishap on a valve that had not been opened properly, and said people should “not pay any attention” to what had happened.
But the problems have persisted. The Russian Olympic torch has gone out “no less than four times” since Sunday as it has been carried around Moscow, according to the People’s Front.
A complaint should be made to Russia’s Investigative Committee about expenditure on the production of the torches and reasons behind the fault, Starshinov said in an online statement posted on the People's Front website.
This year's troubles with the torches are not unique to Russia. According to reports from past Games, Beijing's Olympic torch was snuffed out four times in Paris in 2008, as torch bearers were attacked by protesters rallying against Chinese government policies in Tibet. Four years earlier, in Athens, wind blew out the torch several times and, in 1976, a fierce rainstorm doused the flame in Montreal, Canada.
Russia's torches are made by a machine-building factory in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk that also manufactures parts for Russian ballistic missiles, submarines and the Proton and Zenit space rockets.
The organizers of the Sochi Olympics have ordered 16,000 torches for the landmark sporting event at a cost of 207 million rubles ($6.4 million), according to Russian business daily Vedomosti.
In one of the most ambitious pre-Games torch relays to date, the Russian torch is due to travel 65,000 kilometers (41,140 miles) across the country, from Kaliningrad in the west, to the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific Ocean. It is also scheduled to be taken into space, to the North Pole, and to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake.
NB: This story has been updated to mention previous instances of Olympic torches going out.