An ever-growing wave of discontentment continues to spread throughout the swimming world after the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to move the finals of swimming and gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the morning rather than the traditional evening session.
This change in format will allow fans in the United States and elsewhere to watch these premier events live on NBC in the commercially coveted prime-time television slots.
Critics of the change in schedule say that the move was made for commercial reasons only and the interests of the athletes were not considered. While NBC and its advertisers will benefit from viewers (and potential buyers) watching their commercials during live Olympic finals coverage, the athletes themselves may not be able to perform at peak performance during a morning session, some have argued.
NBC paid $3.55 billion to air the Olympics from 2000-2008 and will pay $2.2 billion to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Games.
U.S. swimming fans may quietly applaud the decision for selfish reasons because of the opportunity to watch the finals sessions live, rather than tape delayed, but will it be at the expense of a Michael Phelps or a Natalie Coughlin not being able to swim his or her best?
Hopefully, this decision has been made early enough to allow for Beijing hopefuls to adjust accordingly. After all, these are professional athletes. They are accustomed to testing the limits of their bodies and adapting to new environments while still competing at an extremely high level.
Nonetheless, anti-American and anti-big business sentiments abound and some are even questioning the integrity of the Olympic Games themselves.
Netherlands’ top swimming coach, Jacco Verhaeren, voiced his disapproval about morning finals, “They (NBC) don’t understand the sport. It’s harmful to swimming and the Olympics. Clearly the sports governing bodies are not representing us as they should.”
Mike Bottom, head swim coach of the University of California-Berkeley men's swim team called the decision “insane.”
“The IOC said the Games were about the athletes and now they have changed their tune,”
declared Francis Luyce, president of the French swimming federation. “It’s all about money.”
The European Broadcasting Union is considering legal action against the IOC, claiming the governing body may be violating a breach of contract.
Chuck Wielgus, Executive Director of USA Swimming, praised the decision. “This is a great opportunity for our sport to be showcased to the nearly one billion people in the potential audience of the Americas during the first nine days of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing,” he said. “The live prime time exposure is something that can only benefit the sport of swimming, and enhance the public profile of our sport’s top athletes.”
In response to the new format, next year’s British Championships will be moving its finals sessions to the morning.
The finals of the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008 will remain at night.