22/11/2019 - 10:12

Olympic sports no longer on media podium

22/11/2019 - 10:12


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OPINION: The ABC’s decision to drop radio coverage of the Olympics suggests the Aussie-made version is winning against global competition.

Olympic sports no longer on media podium
Radio as a medium for the Olympics spectacle is long gone when you can watch a gold medal race on your mobile phone. Photo: Stockphoto

OPINION: Sport is a major industry. The ABC’s decision to drop radio coverage of the Olympics suggests the Aussie-made version is winning against global competition.

Even if you weren’t born in 1980 when Neil Brooks touched ahead of the USSR swimmer to win a rare Aussie gold medal at the politically charged Moscow Olympic games, you’ve probably still heard the broadcast of Norman May’s radio commentary.

“Gold, gold for Australia,” May called as Brooks’s freestyle leg secured a monumental win in the medley relay.

It is a nostalgic moment, and all the more remarkable that a radio recording is how a major sporting moment is remembered when, by 1980, television ruled the loungerooms of Australia.

Those days are gone. The Olympics are well and truly covered by video footage. Radio as a medium for the spectacle is pointless when you can watch a gold medal race on your mobile phone.

So I don’t see the controversy in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation bowing out of broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics on the radio.

Sending a big team to peak season in an already expensive city and then being obliged to drop regular programming to justify the cost is probably a fair reason to pull the plug.

And it is a four-year event. Where is the consistency?

In my view I can’t criticise the ABC for that decision. It is, however, the culmination of a long line of curious steps that are incrementally unnoticeable but in combination seem to me to go against the self-proclaimed ‘Your ABC’ mantra that the government broadcaster has defensively branded itself.

When it comes to sport, for many that I know, it isn’t my ABC.

Dropping the Olympics, which has 33 sports, many of which are popular here and where Aussies could win medals, is the end of a long trajectory of chasing popularity by cosying up to what I call the industrial machinery of professional sport, especially but not limited to AFL.

If you are a consistent and regular listener or viewer of ABC programs and news, the frog of non-mainstream sport has been slowly boiled by the heat of competition from major codes with big money from sponsorship and, ironically, television broadcasting rights.

Whether we like it or not, the news is currency for all sorts of businesses and getting a flash of a sponsor’s logo is gold, gold for a sporting code and its partners. More important is squeezing out the opposition so they don’t get any airplay.

This isn’t just the sponsors anymore, either. The individual players and participants have their own brands, which are just worth so much less if they can’t reach a broader market.

It's all a downward spiral, less coverage, less popularity, less money, less encouragement to compete. Australia is a great sporting nation, but increasingly we just compete with ourselves rather than in globally benchmarked sports.

Try to mention a company on ABC radio and there’s the ‘tut, tut’ of no brands mentioned here. Turn to the sports news and you can’t escape them.

A lot of that news is spurious. Press conferences with rookies learning the PR ropes, tame journalists asking inane questions and being satisfied with a ‘grab’ for the nightly news that can be as newsworthy as some unheard of player saying they are now comfortable at AFL level.

When the ABC proclaims the women’s sport is now on an equal pedestal to the men because the AFL realised it has a masculinity problem, the broadcaster does a disservice the decades of its Olympic coverage of equal opportunity sports, which found equality long before the sponsors pushed them into it.

Maybe I am just biased. I like footy, enjoy watching the game and even bought a high-priced ticket to the Eagles final this year.

But I am also dismayed when I hear footy tipping and an endless rotation of AFL players on talk radio. I laugh when ABC Perth’s Sports Talk is jointly hosted by former AFL player Shane Woewodin and Seven West Media employee Mark Duffield, and regularly features another Seven West contractor, former coach Mick Malthouse.

That is where I find the industrial sports complex inroads into the ABC most insidious. Why does Your ABC give people contracted by the broadcasting opposition airtime to promote the sport which their company has the rights to?

Why does the ABC then play second fiddle and broadcast the reserves competition? Is there nothing else going on?

Of course, there’s plenty going on but the sports reporters would have to do what other ABC journalists are expected to do and go out and find a story, rather than taking what is served up on a well-stacked public relations plate.

With the Olympics dropped, they don’t have to bother looking elsewhere, even just once every four years.


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