Hackney Paralympic torch bearer boycotts torch relay

A Paralympic torchbearer forewent the honour of carrying the torch on its way to last night’s spectacular opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium, after officials refused to let her carry the flame in front of her family and friends in Hackney - rather than a “painful” 60-mile round-trip away in Hertfordshire.

Wheelchair-bound badminton player Sharon Barnes who lives in Wenlock Street, Shoreditch – a stone’s throw from the Olympic stadium - was over the moon when she discovered she had been picked out as an inspirational figure to represent the community in the historic relay

But last week Sharon - who has worked tirelessly to promote wheelchair badminton in Hackney - discovered that instead of carrying the flame through her home borough on Wednesday evening, she would have to travel 30 miles out of London to Berkhamsted at midnight on Tuesday.

“We are supposed to be doing this for the community and this is my community,” said 48-year old amputee patient Sharon who took up badminton in 2006 after suffering a spinal injury.

“I feel a bit cheated even though it’s a great honour to be asked to carry the torch, but I think it’s unfair I have to make a painful journey to a place I’ve never been before.

“The whole basis of the application was based on a team of five people who have a disability representing Hackney and carrying the torch in Hackney, and for LOCOG (The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) to decide they’ll shove us 30 miles up the road is totally unfair and unjust and it defeats the object.”

LOCOG failed to provide a comment, but a spokesman said the route had been decided according to “individual needs” and could not be changed.

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In a bizarre twist, a group of torchbearers from Berkhamsted all made the same journey in the opposite direction to carry the torch through Hackney town centre yesterday.

Hackney’s elected Mayor Jules Pipe expressed “disappointment” about the torchbearer slot Sharon and her four team mates had been offered.

“I have met her personally on a couple of occasions, and have enormously admired her passion and commitment,” he said.

“She is part of what we see as a ‘dream team’ of Hackney residents who are carrying the torch together in relay. All five of them have made enormous contributions to the development of disability sport in the borough, so for them to carry the torch here would be important not just for them, it would also be our chance as residents to thank them for their work.”