The Hong Kong government has stepped in to acquire broadcast rights to this year’s Olympic Games, to be held in Tokyo, and will allow five local channels to show events for free.

The deal was agreed with Dentsu, the Japanese advertising giant that is responsible for the distribution of Olympics rights in 24 Asian countries, as it transpired that none of the Hong Kong networks was likely to be able to afford them.

The Olympics, delayed from last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, take place from 23 July to 8 August, and will be aired in Hong Kong on free-to-air channels TVB, ViuTV and Hong Kong Open TV and pay-TV outlets Hong Kong Cable Television and NowTV.

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has insisted that the intervention represents a one-time deal that reflects the current economic situation, influenced by Covid-19.

It had been reported in February that none of the Hong Kong broadcasters had acquired rights to Tokyo 2020, which had been valued at HK$270 million ($34.7 million)

Lam told reporters today: “It would be a great pity if the people of Hong Kong had no chance to watch, free of charge, the Tokyo Olympic Games and to support all Chinese and Hong Kong athletes

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“It was a tough arrangement, with lots of online meetings and planning, and the deal was completed last Friday. This will only be a one-off arrangement.”

She did not disclose the cost of the deal, which is being covered by a grant from Hong Kong’s Arts and Sport Development Fund, but claimed that it was cheaper than those for the rights for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which were acquired by TVB for HK$160 million, and for the London 2012 Olympics, which went to Cable TV for HK$120 million.

Lam said of the five approved channels: “All of these stations do not have to bear the purchasing fee, and will only have to carry their own production costs.”

They are however committed to show certain events at the Olympics, including all those involving Hong Kong athletes.

In a joint statement, the broadcasters said: “We aim to bring viewers extensive coverage of our Hong Kong athletes in action, in support of the Hong Kong team in the Tokyo Olympic Games.”

A notable absentee will be public broadcaster RTHK, with Lam saying that it had been concluded that the network did not have the necessary funding nor manpower to show the games.