'It pains me as a citizen': Tom Dean's mother reveals sadness at BBC's Olympics TV coverage

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'It pains me as a citizen': Tom Dean's mother reveals sadness at BBC's Olympic TV coverage - REUTERS
'It pains me as a citizen': Tom Dean's mother reveals sadness at BBC's Olympic TV coverage - REUTERS

During a trouble-hit Olympics for the BBC in Tokyo, the broadcaster has missed big medal moments and faced daily viewer anger. However, embattled corporation figures may be further alarmed to learn that the mother of Team GB's most successful star says scaled-down coverage "pains" her. 

In the hours between supporting Tom Dean from the swimming pool sidelines, Jacquie Hughes is a high-flying former BBC executive who moved to head up policy at Ofcom, the organisation that deals with complaints. Amid the delirium of celebrating her son's back-to-back swimming golds, she admitted she was saddened "as a citizen" that overall coverage is now scaled down due to an American TV giant's rights deal with the Games. 

"The number of people that have raised this with me and said, 'I can't believe I can't get all the games on the BBC...I've watched the Olympics my whole life'," she tells Telegraph Sport. "It's sad from a viewers point of view, but it's funny for me having been party to those conversations and those debates my whole life - to be suddenly on the receiving end of it." 

Dean had been winning the first of his golds in the 200m freestyle on Tuesday morning as BBC chiefs first acknowledged the "frustrations" of their viewers. The broadcaster had been bombarded with complaints over its new sub-licensing agreement which only allows it to only screen two live events any one time. Anger intensified on Sunday when BBC One missed Team GB's Chelsie Giles winning the first bronze of the Games

With more than 350 Britons competing in Japan, the corporation is facing an almost impossible job due to the Olympics allowing American giant Discovery to snatch away the main rights across Europe. "It's absolutely nothing to do with any history at the BBC, but it pains me as a citizen," says Ms Hughes, who was head of documentaries and history at the corporation. "I think it's a reality of modern global media where it's all about money. Obviously, the big American networks, including Discovery, have deep pockets. You have a set licence fee and if it's spending it on the Olympics, people would moan that there was no drama. It's sad." 

Watch: How much is an Olympic Gold medal worth?

Britain’s Olympic chief, Sir Hugh Robertson branded the lack of live coverage of the games “disappointing”. “It’s clearly disappointing if people aren’t seeing as much of the athletes as we would want,” the British Olympic Association chairman told Times Radio. It’s actually very disappointing for the athletes themselves. Probably most of all for people trying to watch it because the nation really gets behind Team GB. Sir Hugh said the funding required to bring the athletes to Tokyo and “kit them out” was generated by sponsorship which hinges on the “visibility of the athletes”.

Thankfully for Ms Hughes and her family, there were no BBC One interruptions as he struck gold on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Local BBC cameras were also there at the mother's Berkshire home to catch ecstatic scenes as friends, families and neighbours watched the race in the early hours. 

"That party was so last minute," she explained of footage of them cheering him on from the garden. The clip, described as the moment that encapsulates the joy of the Games, has now been viewed tens of millions of times around the world. "I'd thought beforehand that I'd got to get the neighbours round so they don't complain about the noise! You're so in the moment you don't take in what anyone else around you is doing."

She said she had been stunned by the reaction from viewers, including one who commented "it's the best film of the Olympics". "This is going to follow me to the grave," she added. "It was chaotic but it was joyous." 

Mother-of-five Ms Hughes, who single-handedly ferried Dean to swimming during his teens after splitting with his father eight years ago, promised her son would take his triumph in his stride. "Stuff like this will never go to Tom's head," she added. "He has no ego." 

Dean must wait until he returns on Monday to start partying, but the 21-year-old University of Bath student has already been on FaceTime to tease his four siblings. "He was so relaxed," she added. "I got all the kids on WhatsApp. It was so funny. He reverts to being like a 12-year-old. He was bragging about his medals and the others were ribbing him. He was like 'you don't get them' and making jokes. They were ribbing him about his picture being in the papers and it was so funny. He just reverted to being the kid in the house."

Last night teachers and friends said Ms Hughes - who they described as "superwoman" - should share some of the credit for Dean's success. "He was always very modest and unassuming in his abilities," said Sian Davies, executive head of Malorees Infant and Junior School. 

She has remained in touch with the family and added: "I used to refer to his mother Superwoman - really she was. She juggled a demanding job, a busy home and also chaired our parents association as well". "She's been the most amazing role model".

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