Australian ABC Pulls Plug On Olympic Live Radio Broadcasts For Tokyo 2020

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Kyle Chalmers - Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia Ltd.

ABC Olympic Radio Silence

Video may have killed the radio star, as the song goes, but live broadcasts for the ear have been a part of Olympic Games coverage in Australia since it hosted the biggest multi-sports event in history in Melbourne back in 1956.

If a decision by Australian ABC to pull the plug on Olympic broadcasts for Tokyo 2020 stands, there will be live-radio silence Down Under from a Games for the first time since 1952.

That means that any Aussie out working, in their car and going about their daily lives on the day Kyle Chalmers may stand up to defend the 100m freestyle crown and take a shot at being the first Australian to keep what is considered by some to be the blue-riband swim title, will not be able to hear the race and commentary of the moment as it unfolds. 2020.

Tokyo finals are in the morning to suit NBC, the U.S. television rights holder that trumps all others in the Olympic realm of financial contribution. For east coast Australians, they might have a lucky lunchtime window for the 100m free final and a chance to catch the live on others channels.

Those out and about – especially in remote areas that will not have access to the live commercial radio likely to be tuned in but unlikely to be truly national and broadcasting well shy of the reach of ABC – will be deaf to it all … but they will be able to tune into Swimming World‘s coverage on their phones and tablets and read the result within seconds of stop from the team, including Ian Hanson, our Oceania Correspondent, who in this tribute to Cecil Healy nods to there depth of tradition and heartbeat in Australian sport and its meaning to the nation.

Younger audiences may well shrug, radio unlikely to be their first port of call, but for older generations, radio still resonates.

The reasoning of the Aussie non-commercial rights holder: a budget too far.

The decision has caused uproar Down Under, the pressure to have the decision reversed immediate. The ‘think again’ plea comes from ABC’s Olympic staff, former presenters now retired and the Australian Olympic Committee that is seeking talks with ABC.

In the mix are budget pressures on monumental sums, including an annual figure of about Aus$1bn that ABC has to work with for all coverage and an $87m cut in funding for 2020.

What is not forthcoming from ABC, AOC nor anyone else is the costs of Olympic live coverage; the sums involved for a broadcaster to buy the rights and then foot the bill for on-location live radio and TV services. Commercial secrets are a part of the picture, as is what critics have going pointed to when listing the downside of the Olympic Movement: lack of transparency.

An ABC spokesman explained the reasoning behind the network’s decision:

“The decision was made due to the cost of covering the Games as well as budget pressures and the changing broadcast environment. This means the ABC will not be providing live commentary for the Olympics on radio, however ABC News and ABC Grandstand will provide daily Olympic updates throughout the event.”

The spokesman described the decision as “incredibly tough” but said that the ABC had to consider other budget priorities and the ability of audiences to access Olympics coverage in other ways in the digital age.

The story ran in The Australian and led to articles in the Sydney Morning Herald from reporters Fergus Hunter and the man on the swim beat, Phil Lutton, reporting the depth of emotion sparked by the ABC decision among many in a sport-crazy nation of soaring achievements that have contributed to the reputation of the land of the kangaroo having long been a nation boxing beyond its population size.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) is to make a direct appeal to ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose, calling ABC’s decision “monumentally short-sighted”.

In a statement, the AOC said it had “called on the ABC to reverse its decision not to provide live radio coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games”.

AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll branded the decision “short-sighted” and one that ran contrary to the ABC Charter (at the conditions of engagement for the public broadcaster). He added:

“The ABC should reconsider this decision. The AOC is prepared to put this case to the Chair of the ABC directly, on behalf of the 8 million Australians who participate in Olympic sports. Not to mention the millions more who follow, support and celebrate those athletes. The AOC believes the decision is monumentally short-sighted and a great let down to Australians who rely on their national broadcaster – from the smallest of communities to our suburbs.”

Carroll said this was a time when Australians “should be inspired to participate in sport, to defeat the growing scourges of obesity and mental illness”, adding: “Tokyo 2020 presents such an opportunity to do that, given the time-zone, in particular. The Olympics can inspire Australians to embrace something valuable and as the ABC’s charter indicates – to contribute to a sense of national identity.

“There’s no bigger event in the world to fulfil this ambition. There is no sporting movement in Australia that covers the multi-cultural and geographical diversity of our country as the Olympic movement – we will be sending athletes to compete in some 42 disciplines in Tokyo. These are things go to the heart of the ABC Charter.”