ABU slams changes in Beijing 2008 Olympics schedule

MUMBAI: The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) has added its weight to the rising chorus of protests against the recent rescheduling of key events for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

IOC's decision, announced last week, to reschedule the swimming and gymnastics finals to the morning, Beijing time, instead of holding them in the evening as is traditional, is seen as being a result of the pressure exerted by the powerful "US lobby". Television network NBC, which paid $3.55 billion for the US telecast rights for the Olympics, wants to ensure that these events are seen at prime-time in North America.

ABU President Genichi Hashimoto made the protest call at a news conference in Beijing yesterday on the eve of the ABU's annual General Assembly.

“We are very disappointed and strongly regret the changes that have been made to the time schedule for swimming and gymnastics,” said Hashimoto, who is also president of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.

“The Olympic Games is a highly-anticipated event which everyone all over the world is looking forward to watching. We have to give serious consideration to this matter so that such a regrettable incident will never happen again in the future,” added Hashimoto.

Les Murray, ABU Sports Group chairman and editorial supervisor for SBS Sports, Australia, said the majority of the press has described this “as the worst decision by the International Olympic Committee in recent memory and one that is obviously designed to only benefit the giant US television network NBC.”

The move could cost Asian broadcasters millions of dollars in lost ad revenue, said ABU’s head of Sports John Barton.

“We want the Olympic family to be strong. We want to see a true partnership of equals regardless of commercial muscle,” ABU secretary-general David Astley said in a speech to the sports group meeting that preceded the general assembly.

How the IOC responds to the ABU's protests, which follow those made earlier by the European Broadcasting Union, will be watched closely. Asian broadcasters, which include the host of the 2008 Games, would likely have a more telling influence in the matter.

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