ABC faces backlash following decision to cut live radio coverage of Tokyo Olympics

Budget cuts have been blamed for the ABC’s decision to not broadcast the Tokyo Olympics live on ABC radio in 2020, a move which ends a 67-year tradition for the public broadcaster.

The decision has been met with backlash online, including from the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) which called it ‘short-sighted’.

The Australian Olympic Committee has lashed out at the public broadcaster over the choice to not air the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

For the first time since the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the ABC will not live broadcast the event, with the decision made to not bid for the rights in 2020. The ABC would need to purchase the non-commercial broadcast rights from Seven. The Guardian is reporting these discussions broke down after six months.

The AOC has called on the broadcaster to reconsider, saying in a statement that the refusal to broadcast the event is against the ABC charter.

“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,” said AOC chief executive officer Matt Carroll.

“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.”

But, on the other side of the debate, the ABC is blaming budget cuts and says the cost of broadcasting the event is just too high. The event would require a dedicated digital radio station, as well as live commentary from the ABC team and coverage of every Australian medal.

In a statement, the broadcaster said the decision had been a very tough one, but that due to ‘competing budget priorities’ the ABC was left with no other choice. It also pointed out that Australians would be able to access the Olympic Games in many other ways, and that both ABC News and ABC Grandstand would still be covering the games with updates.

“This is an incredibly tough decision especially given our 67-year run as the official non-commercial Olympic Games radio broadcaster. Due to competing budget priorities coupled with the fact that Australians can access Olympic Games coverage in many other ways, we have chosen not to pursue rights in 2020,” said a spokesperson.

Director of regional and local Judith Whelan spoke to ABC Mornings radio host Virginia Trioli and said the broadcast costs the ABC approximately $1m, primarily in the cost of setting up a studio in the host city. She called the decision ‘incredibly difficult’ and said the broadcaster hadn’t taken it lightly.

“The vast majority of that cost is the staging of the commentary. We have to set up a seperate broadcast centre in the host city and staff that with commentators, producers, technicians,” said Whelan.

Trioli said the decision may put the ABC in ‘flagrant breach of the ABC charter’. Whelan agreed that the decision was less than ideal, but said given the current budget concerns, it was one that had to be made.


Several ABC reporters have spoken out with their disappointment about the decision, with Quentin Hull calling it a ‘national shame’.

Carroll said that in the decision to not air the event, the broadcaster was missing out on an opportunity to inspire Australians.

“Tokyo 2020 presents such an opportunity to do that, given the time-zone, in particular,” said Carroll.

“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,” Mr Carroll concluded.”


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