The final countdown to the second European Games in Minsk will be signalled by a Torch Relay known as the ‘"Flame of Peace". The lighting ceremony will be held on May 3 in Rome, the host city of the headquarters of the European Olympic Committees.

Appropriately, this will take place at the Ara Pacis, an altar of peace.

The flame will also visit Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland before arriving in Belarus. A 50-day odyssey around the nation will end with the arrival of the flame at the Opening Ceremony in Minsk on June 21.

A flame with Olympic pedigree has burned in Belarus before. Back in 1980 when Moscow hosted the Olympic Games, Minsk was among the cities chosen to stage group matches in the football tournament.

When the flame arrived in Moscow before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, messengers from the other hosting cities including Minsk were waiting to receive it. They were given a ceremonial escort to the the railway station in Moscow. The flame was taken by special train to Minsk. It burned in a special cauldron built for the Games.

Nor is this the first time that a flame Relay will begin in the eternal city of Rome. Back in 1956, the flame for the Olympic Winter Games of Cortina d’Ampezzo was kindled at the capital. Its departure was accompanied by a fanfare, a symbolic release of doves and a blessing from the Vicar General. 

Olympic discus champion Adolfo Consolini began the Relay by running across the Piazza Campidoglio before an extended Relay took the flame to the mountains.

The Olympic flame is now so well established that organisers of Regional Games have taken great trouble to ensure that any Torch Relays are distinct and original.

In 1951, organisers of the first Asian Games enthusiastically adopted a flame as their symbol.

In the same year Greek IOC member Ioannis Ketseas accompanied a flame lit on the Acropolis to the inaugural Pan American Games in Buenos Aires. Some in the Olympic Movement threw up their hands in horror. Ketseas had to explain himself at the IOC Session in Vienna. At the time, they were very concerned about protecting the symbolism of the Olympic Movement.

Minsk 2019 will follow Baku 2015 in holding a Torch Relay for the European Games ©Getty Images
Minsk 2019 will follow Baku 2015 in holding a Torch Relay for the European Games ©Getty Images

In their bulletin, the IOC included a statement. "It is to be desired that in the future, to preserve the prestige of the Olympic Games, that the right to carry it be reserved solely and unconditionally for the celebration of the Olympic Games".

This was interpreted by regional Games as a ban on Torch Relays but within a few years, the position had softened.

By 1958 the Japanese welcomed an Asian Games flame to Tokyo. This had been kindled in the preceding host city of Manila. Eventually organisers decided that the Asian Games flame should begin from Delhi in tribute to the first host city.

Much of what will happen on the European Games Torch Relay this summer is still shrouded in secrecy, though Minsk 2019 ceremonies chief Sergei Khomich has revealed that many of those chosen to carry the flame will do so in familiar surroundings.

"We tried to incorporate the native land of famous Torchbearers into the itinerary so that they will have an opportunity to visit the places where they were born and meet their compatriots’," he said.

These are still relatively new Games, and so host cities have a great opportunity to innovate. Four years ago, organisers of Baku took advantage of a blank canvas and came up with an original approach to their Relay.

This began with an evening ceremony at the 18th century Temple of Fire at Ateshgah.

In the words of the organisers the flame was "captured from the earth".

President Ilham Aliev himself dipped the ceremonial Torch into a burning kiln within the temple to begin the journey.

Baku came up with an original approach to their Torch Relay ©Getty Images
Baku came up with an original approach to their Torch Relay ©Getty Images

The Torch was then carried away into the night by Rafiga Shabanova, a distinguished local sportswoman. The first of 1,000 Torchbearers, she won Olympic handball gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

It journeyed for 47 days by land, by runner and horseback, across water, by helicopter, funicular railway and abseilers. It also travelled on the Baku metro.

Then the "first flame" of the European Games arrived at the stadium itself. It was carried by Paralympic judo champion Ilham Zakiyev, accompanied by Said Guliyev, taekwondo gold medallist at the 2014 Youth Olympics.

Unusually it made its appearance at the start of the Opening Ceremony and the reason was soon clear.

On a stage built to represent the volcanic landscapes of Azerbaijan as "the land of fire", Guliev moved a stone to reveal a pit in the earth. As the flame was lit underground, and his Torch was extinguished, a trail of underground lava across the stage was revealed. This "new energy under the ground" was to power the rest of the ceremony.

Finally as the evening came to a close, two performers representing Leili and Majnun, star crossed lovers in folklore, reappeared on stage and discovered a burning rockTheir coming together was an expression of "humankind's burning desire to connect".

As a black mirror disc rose above the stadium, the couple threw the burning rock towards it.

As the disc ignited, it represented the cosmic coming together of earth, sun and moon in a "Caspian eclipse".

It was an original and spectacular cauldron which was intended as a ‘symbol of unity and truce.’

It also set down a challenge for Minsk to emulate with their flame this summer.

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