BBC sacrificed Olympics coverage over fears ITV could gain rights

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The Olympics rings in Tokyo - GETTY IMAGES
The Olympics rings in Tokyo - GETTY IMAGES

The BBC under Lord Hall surrendered the full television rights to this summer’s Olympics to avoid losing future Games – almost certainly to ITV – the corporation has admitted.

Coverage of Tokyo 2020, the first Summer Games to be shared by the BBC and Discovery-owned Eurosport, has been widely criticised amid a lack of free-to-air live action and a series of pay-TV blunders.

The BBC was forced to apologise again on Friday after failing to show Kye Whyte claiming a BMX silver medal on BBC One, instead broadcasting pre-recorded action from the boxing.

Unlike at London 2012 and Rio 2016, at which it was able to offer wall-to-wall coverage of the Games, the corporation is limited at Tokyo 2020 to showing only two events live at any one time.

That is because it struck a deal five years ago with Discovery after the latter snatched the UK rights to the Olympics from 2022 as part of a pan-European £920 million agreement with the International Olympic Committee.

A £110m deal saw the BBC give up full coverage of the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo 2020 in exchange for free-to-air rights to the 2022 and 2024 editions.

The BBC has now admitted it did so amid fears Discovery would sub licence those latter Games – which must be made available on terrestrial TV by law – to a rival, almost certainly to ITV.

A spokeswoman said: “The IOC sold the rights for the Olympics in 2022 and 2024 to Discovery and, as a result, we needed to carve out a comprehensive deal that ensured the Olympics remained on the BBC. With over 500 hours of live coverage, and more BBC One hours than ever before, alongside 24-hour catch up and extensive radio and digital rights, we have secured an extensive offer for audiences that has already been watched by over 26 million people.”

The 2016 decision to trade the full Tokyo rights was made during Lord Hall of Birkenhead’s era as BBC director-general.

Hall made a statement in 2016 about the deal with Discovery saying: “While the BBC has had to take some tough financial decisions, this partnership underlines our commitment to making world-class sport available to all.”

BBC apologises after failing to show Kye Whyte's medal-winning BMX moment

By Tom Morgan in Tokyo

The BBC was forced to apologise again over its Olympics coverage after missing Kye Whyte winning silver on his BMX.

Viewers complained that boxing highlights were being shown on BBC One when the broadcaster should have cut to his thrilling race. Whyte’s medal-winning moment was eventually shown on the main channel around half an hour after it had happened.

“We've given the game away," said BBC presenter JJ Chalmers. "We are very sorry that we didn't get to show Kye Whyte's race live on BBC One. It was on the red button, but there's been a bit of a timing issue. There have been some delays in the schedule as well. We know he gets a silver, but here's how he did it.”

Amid a storm of criticism online, the broadcaster was once again branded a "shambles", with more complaints over the scaled-down coverage enforced by the Olympics selling off the main rights to American giant Discovery.

“Have to say though, BBC really messed up with the coverage of Kye Whyte's medal performance," one viewer tweeted. “It was not on live. They put on the boxing instead on BBC One, then on the red button where BMX was supposed to be, the athletics women's heats of 100m was on instead!"

The broadcaster had already been bombarded with complaints over its new sub-licensing agreement which only allows it to only screen two live events any one time. Missing Whyte's medal-winning moment sparked a repeat of the furore on Sunday when BBC One failed to screen Chelsie Giles winning the first bronze of the Games.

With more than 350 Britons competing in Japan, the corporation believes it is facing an almost impossible job due to the Olympics allowing American giant Discovery to snatch away the main rights across Europe. Britain’s Olympic chief, Sir Hugh Robertson, has branded the lack of live coverage of the games “disappointing”.

Ron Chakraborty, who leads major events at BBC Sport, blamed the shackles of the IOC's new rights arrangements, as he said "we need to be agile and will often have to make difficult decisions".

Acknowledging criticism for the first time, he suggested wall-to-wall coverage in recent Games had raised expectations for the BBC.

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