An Investigation by The Traveller’s Times can reveal that Gypsies and Travellers are in danger of being excluded from the volunteers who will carry the Olympic flame to the opening of the Olympic Games – making a mockery of the organising committee’s promise that the London Olympics 2012 will be “the most diverse ever”.
The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) says that The Olympic Torch Relay will be made up of 8,000 community champions who “will reflect the diversity of life in the UK”. Yet a spokesperson from LOCOG has admitted that they haven’t got a clue how many torch bearers there are from each of the UK’s ethnic groups –or whether some ethnic groups – like the UK’s Gypsy and Traveller communities – will be left out in the cold.
The Traveller’s Times is aware of only one young Irish Traveller woman; Bridey Purcell, 14, from an unauthorized site in Greenwich, who was put forward to carry the Olympic Flame – yet she was not chosen by the organizers.
Ms Purcell’s mum explains what happened: “Bridey was nominated by Yvonne McNamara from the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain. LOCOG then sent her an email saying that she had been nominated, then another asking when she was available to take part, telling her what tracksuit she was going to wear and things like that. We thought she had been picked, but just before Christmas we got another email saying that she had been turned down. It was a big disappointment as we had really got our hopes up.”
Yvonne McNamara explains why Bridey was put forward:
“Bridey is one of the most talented, driven, ambitious and creative young woman I have ever met,” says Ms McNamara. “She is also an extremely effective campaigner and volunteer who shares her time and skills with a wide range of community groups as well as with her own community,” she says. “Gypsy Traveller and Roma young people get written off more often than not by local authorities, but here is an excellent example of a young Traveller woman who puts her heart and soul into making society a better place for all of us despite the fact that society has not been fair to her family or her community,” she says. “I nominated Bridey because she deserved to carry that torch and we are gutted that LOCOG decided not to give her this opportunity. It would have been fantastic to see a member of the GRT community included and represented along with all the other BAME groups.”
This will add to the woes inflicted on the Gypsy and Traveller communities by the London Olympics – with many Travellers forcibly moved from established legal sites to make way for the building of the Olympic stadium in Stratford, East London.
“Involving a broad mix of communities?”
Further investigations by the Traveller’s Times has found out that normally, a public body organising such a big national event like the Olympic Torch Relay must include ways of ensuring that all ethnic groups can take part if they want, but because LOCOG is a private business, it can flout those rules with impunity.
Although a spokesperson from LOCOG claimed that “Guidance was given to remind those on the (selecting) panels of the importance of involving a broad mix of communities in the Torch Relay”, The Traveller’s Times can reveal that there was no monitoring process in place to ensure that this was happening as the torch bearers were being picked. Instead, LOCOG will wait until ‘the relay team is in place’ before it bothers to find out which ethnic communities are represented – and which are not.
The Traveller’s Times also asked LOCOG if that meant that the selection process was institutionally racist because it failed to monitor LOCOG’s own ethnic inclusion strategy – but LOCOG declined to reply to our question.
So as many of the nation’s different cultures and ethnicities celebrate the opening of the games, Ms Purcell – and all of the Traveller’s she was going to represent - or will have been there to cheer her on - will be left to watch the big party on TV.
Read about Bridey Purcell in our interview in Spring’s edition of the Young Traveller’s Times Magazine. LOCOG may not have picked her – but to us at the Traveller’s Times she is one big community champion who helps to keep the