Euro broadcasters challenge IOC
From Mark Ledsom in Bern, Switzerland
November 10, 2006 EUROPEAN broadcasters could mount a legal challenge to the controversial swimming and gymnastics schedule planned by the International Olympic Committee for the 2008 Beijing Games.
The IOC should reconsider its decision to hold swimming finals and much of the gymnastics in the morning or risk causing “long-term damage to the Olympic movement and spirit”, said European Broadcasting Union president Fritz Pleitgen.
“We have instructed our legal department to go over the contracts with the IOC to see if the rescheduling of these sports constitutes a breach of contract,” Pleitgen said overnight.
“We hope to avoid a court case as we have always been loyal partners of the IOC in the past but our members are furious about what has happened.”
The IOC announced the calendar on October 26, delighting American broadcasters who will be able to show the popular swimming finals and the gymnastics team and all-round events during prime time in the United States thanks to the time difference.
The decision has angered broadcasters in Europe, Asia and Australasia who now face the prospect of televising major events at a time when few viewers will be watching.
“We have had no explanation from the IOC as to the reasons for this change, and whether it is being done just to suit US audiences, but we are worried that it marks a new rule where the schedule is arranged according to who pays the most money,” Pleitgen said.
The Beijing schedule has also been criticised by several national swimming and gymnastic associations who say the new competition times end a long-standing tradition of holding finals in the local evening time.
NBC, which owns the exclusive US broadcast rights for the Olympics, paid $US3.55 billion for coverage of the 2000-2008 Games and will pay a further $US2.201 billion for the 2010 and 2012 rights.
The EBU, representing 74 broadcasters, has agreed to pay 614 million euros ($1.02 billion) for the 2010 and 2012 Games.
“It seems that whoever pays the most money gets the best seats but the Olympics are supposed to be about more than just money,” Pleitgen said.
“They are meant to also reflect equality and democracy. Yet this schedule is ignoring the wishes of the athletes and the 2.2 billion people in Asia, Australasia and Europe in favour of 560 million potential viewers in the US.”
Pleitgen said he had written to IOC president Jacques Rogge on October 27, urging a rethink, but had not yet received a reply.