Veteran Sportscaster Blasts IOC For Going Back To China: ‘They’re Shameless’

On Sunday, legendary sportscaster Bob Costas appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with host Brian Stelter to discuss the upcoming Olympics, which will take place in Beijing.

During the segment, Costas blasted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for going back to China despite the nation’s atrocious human rights record.

“…the IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China yet again. They were in Beijing in 2008; they go to Sochi in 2014. They’re shameless about this stuff,” Costas said.

Regarding what NBC will do as it pertains to acknowledging any issues, Costas replied that while he has no insider information, “I would anticipate that what they’ll do is the very thing that you suggested; they will acknowledge the issues at the beginning, and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the course of the Games, which very well could happen.”

Costas later noted that Human Rights Watch places China “very high on the list of the worst human rights abusers,” and that despite the IOC policy “that they don’t approve of political statements during” the Games, “that genie is going to be out of the bottle to a certain extent.”

STELTER: Bob, I know you’re always asked about NBC and you still have a lot of friends there, what are you hearing from those friends about the unique challenges covering the Beijing Games?

COSTAS: We should preface this by saying that no one could have anticipated COVID, no matter what the venue is, but the IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China yet again. They were in Beijing in 2008; they go to Sochi in 2014. They’re shameless about this stuff. And so, this takes place not only amid COVID … but as you mentioned, the restrictions on press freedom, and the sense that everyone there is being monitored in some way. We had that feeling in 2008 in Beijing. I think, if anything, it’s been ramped up now. And any — it isn’t just NBC — any network that broadcasts big sports events is simultaneously in a position, it’s quasi journalistic at best. You’re reporting a news event, and what surrounds it in the case of the Olympics. It isn’t just what’s confined to one game in the stadium. You’re reporting on an event, but you’re also promoting the event. Newspapers and CNN and whatever other outlets don’t pay a rights fee to cover the White House or whatever they’re covering; NBC pays a huge rights fee along with the production costs. They want people to watch it. It’s a centerpiece of the entire network strategy. At a time where everything is fractionalized, very few things draw huge audiences — the NFL does, the Super Bowl, the Olympics do. They’re part of a strategy, as you mentioned, generally speaking, nightly news would be there. “The Today Show” would be there. It’s almost 24/7 Olympic stuff, you promote your other upcoming programs. All of that is diminished. It’s not gone, but it’s diminished under these circumstances.

STELTER: And these circumstances, so many of them are out of NBC’s control, as you’re saying.

COSTAS: Of course.

STELTER: Is there anything they can control? They said this week, we will acknowledge the geopolitical context of these games. Is that a gentle way of saying, we’re gonna mention what’s going on with human rights abuses, but we’re just going to move on quickly…

COSTAS: My guess would be, and I have no inside information here, and I want to stipulate my great respect for the job that my colleagues have done and undoubtedly will do under these very difficult circumstances — but I would anticipate that what they’ll do is the very thing that you suggested; they will acknowledge the issues at the beginning, and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the course of the games, which very well could happen. They’re also up against it because of this. The late, great Jim McKay said to me when I began hosting the Olympics, and he had established the standard at ABC: “Remember, yes, it’s a sports event, but it’s a cultural panorama. It’s a travel log.” NBC has no ability under these circumstances to take people around China, to have people share in the emotion of cheering crowds and family. All of that is reduced, and even though people are used to sports events, in some cases, being broadcast remotely, because COVID imposed that, and they’ll be able to do a decent enough job from Stamford, Connecticut, with 90% of their coverage coming from there, but still, the announcers and the producers will not have the feel of the event. They won’t have the personal contact with the people involved. And they won’t be able to say, as Jim was able to say, as I was able to say through all those Olympics, I traveled around Australia, I went to the Great Wall of China, give people some sense of what it feels to be at an event that’s so large in its scope, that is just greatly reduced.

STELTER: Have you ever seen a games like this where democracy versus autocracy, where competing political visions are so at the forefront? I mean, to some degree, it’s always a subtext when these games travel around the world, but it feels like it’s much more vivid this time.

COSTAS: Yeah, it was there as a subtext in 2008, and I tried as best I could to address it. It was there in Sochi in 2014, and I did address it. We did pretty directly, but now I think there’s just a greater understanding of everything that China represents, how given, obviously, there are other great abusers of human rights around the globe, but given China’s size, influence, and resources, you could make a very good case … Human Rights Watch has said that it’s very high on the list of the worst human rights abusers. And when you consider its size and influence, it may rank first on that list. And people are more aware of it now than they were. It’s almost impossible to paper it over.

STELTER: That’s very true, and we don’t know what athletes will say or do, and that’s the x-factor for NBC.

COSTAS: Yeah, the IOC makes it a policy that they don’t approve of political statements during an Olympics. That genie is going to be out of the bottle to a certain extent, has to be…

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