Tokyo 2020 and FINA locked in swimming schedule impasse as NBC pulls strings
By Callum Murray in Lausanne
Tokyo 2020, the organising committee for the Olympic Games in that year, has failed to reach agreement with FINA, the international swimming federation, over scheduling the swimming competition at the games.
The news comes amid reports of pressure being applied by NBC, the Comcast-owned US television network that will broadcast the games, for the swimming finals to be switched to the morning from their customary evening slot, to suit US TV schedules.
In a statement today, Tokyo 2020 unveiled the competition schedule by session, featuring a record 33 sports and 339 events between 24 July until 9 August 2020, but added that it is “currently completing the competition schedule by session for swimming, artistic swimming, and diving, and will finalise this shortly.”
Tokyo 2020 told Sportcal that more talks would be required with FINA to resolve the swimming schedule impasse.
A similar issue arose at the Rio 2016 Olympics, when FINA came under pressure over the scheduling of late-night swimming finals to boost television audiences, but admitted that it was powerless to intervene on the issue.
Swimmers and coaches criticised the decision to begin finals at 10pm local time, about four hours later than usual, so they could be shown at a convenient time in USA, one of the top swimming nations.
Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of FINA, told reporters: “We said no [to late finals]. But it’s not us who decides. It’s an IOC event and we have to respect it.”
He added: “Television is very important for everybody.”
For the 2008 games in Beijing, the swimming finals were shifted to a morning slot to boost NBC audiences.
NBC is the International Olympic Committee’s largest single paymaster, handing over $4.38 billion for the period from 2014 to 2020, plus an additional $100-million ‘signing bonus’, which the IOC said at the time of the deal in 2014 will be used for “the promotion of Olympism and the Olympic values between 2015 and 2020.”
Since then, NBC has agreed a further $7.75-billion deal for the rights to all Olympic Games between 2022 and 2032.In its statement, Tokyo 2020 said: “Ahead of the Opening Ceremony, preliminary events will kick off with football and softball matches on 22 July 2020, and with rowing and archery events on the day of the Opening Ceremony itself. The following day - Day 1 of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - will feature events in 21 different sports, including shooting, table tennis, judo, badminton, gymnastics, tennis and cycling. This will be a symbolic and scenic first day of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, featuring the men’s cycling road race winding its way from Tokyo to the foothills of the world-famous Mount Fuji.
“Tokyo 2020 aims to appeal additionally to more youthful and urban generations. Basketball 3x3, skateboarding, and surfing - all new events added to the Tokyo 2020 programme - will start on the first weekend and feature throughout the Games.
“August 1st 2020 will be ‘Super Saturday’, with a number of medal events scheduled to be held on that day, including events featuring for the first time in the Olympic Games, such as the judo mixed team event, triathlon mixed team relay, and shooting trap mixed team event. It will be an action-packed Day 8 featuring 23 sports.
“The final day of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Sunday 9 August, will commence with the men’s marathon. The annual Tokyo Marathon, one of the world's top six city marathons, now regularly attracts one million spectators lining the streets. On that closing day, we expect to see the streets of Tokyo providing a backdrop of celebration as the climax of the Games approaches.”
Tokyo 2020 said that it had adopted a “holistic approach when compiling the schedule, taking into account the technical rules and regulations of the various international federations, gender balance, the popularity of individual sports, in Japan, operational considerations, athletes’ experience & well-being, and the global TV audience.”
The games will use a total of 42 venues, comprising 24 existing, 10 temporary and eight new permanent venues. These will include three venues in Fukushima, Ibaraki, and Miyagi prefectures, which were among those most affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Yoshiro Mori, Tokyo 2020’s president, said: “The session schedule of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was approved today by the IOC Executive Board. I am truly pleased that we were able to mark this significant milestone today before the two-years-to-go mark.
“I believe the Tokyo 2020 Games will generate more enthusiasm than ever. Starting with a softball match in Fukushima two days before the opening of the Games, until the men’s marathon on the final day, a record 33 sports and 339 events will be packed into the two weeks of the Games.
“In addition to prioritising the athletes’ experience and well-being, both domestic and international aspects including the international federations’ technical rules, gender balance and the popularity of individual sports were considered. It took more than a year and a half of planning and coordination with a wide range of stakeholders. We appreciate the cooperation of the many involved in these efforts and will continue to work on further adjustments to the competition schedule.”
The schedule can be found here.