A Look Back at Olympic Torch Relay First Visit to the UN, 2004

Annan addresses audience at the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay ceremony. ©Getty Images

Handed to him by Liberian sprinter Toni Jones, Kofi Annan used the Olympic Torch to raise awareness on rights of children

The world is currently mourning the passing of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who died on Saturday, August 18, 2018, at the age of 80.

As the world joins Ghana to mourn the death of the former peace icon, Daily Observer Sports Desk takes a look back at the Olympic Torch Relay first ever visit to the United Nations (UN) Headquarters during the tenure of the late Kofi Annan.

The Olympic Torch Relay is the ceremonial relaying of the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, to the site of an Olympic Games. It was first performed at the 1936 Berlin Games, and has taken place prior to every Games since.

Interestingly, in 2004 when the ceremonial relay first visited the UN, Toni Jones, a Liberian female sprinter, was one of the torchbearers, whose performance moved Mr. Annan so much.

Toni and her family fled Liberia during the civil conflict in then, and settled in Queens, New York. She became an activist, speaking out on behalf of children in Liberia, thousands of whom were recruited to fight in the war as child soldiers, their lives and health uprooted. 

“Peace in today’s world can happen,” said Toni, “but we as human beings have to remember and think about our fellows,” Toni said.

As it is traditionally done, Toni held the Olympic Torch in her hand, and patiently awaited the sound of the trumpets. She heard the sound of the trumpets and began running along the sidewalk, bearing upward the Olympic Flame, an ancient symbol of peace and truce, toward Mr. Annan who waited on the stage.

Eighteen-year-old Toni Jones is one of the two torchbearers chosen by UNICEF for the 2004 Summer Olympics (Photo: UN)

Toni, at the time a high school competitive sprinter, stepped off the curb, took steps up the stage to hand off the flame to Mr. Annan, who took the Torch and lit the cauldron in front of the crowd of 600.

“It is wonderfully fitting that this flame, symbolizing friendship among nations, should shed its light and grace on the United Nations,” he said.  “The Olympic Truce is a unique concept.  This ancient Greek tradition has been revived by the United Nations General Assembly as a call to all Member States to stop fighting while athletes from the entire community of nations meet under the noble flame of this torch. This Torch should be understood as more than a symbol.  While limited in duration and scope, it can offer a point of consensus, a pause to open a dialogue, a chance to provide relief to a suffering population.  In short, it can offer a window of hope,” Mr. Annan said.

The 2004 Olympic Torch Relay was the first truly global journey for the Olympic flame: for the first time in history, the torch was visited six continents, traveling through 34 cities in 27 countries over five weeks.

According to UNICEF, the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay was special in another way because it was able to select three torchbearers to participate, helping bring the issue of child protection to the world’s attention.

“Each of these torchbearers has a unique story to tell. Individually and collectively, their stories demonstrate the need for creating a protective environment for children, and illustrate how real-world solutions can be applied to accomplish that goal.”


  1. Toni went on to get her degrees in agro economics and international education and now heads the department at the firm where she works


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