Whatever the rationale the IOC uses to justify its decision to switch the swimming finals to the morning session in Beijing, they have set a dangerous precedent and tacitly admitted that dollars are the new language of the Olympics. Whatever platitudes they may offer about consultation with athletes, their views were clearly never given enough weight, with the overwhelming majority in favour of maintaining the status quo, by comparison with the clout that NBC’s £1.9bn TV deal can call upon.
But the precedent has now been set. By seeming to bow to NBC’s demands to suit the US TV audience, there may now be calls for similar shifts at subsequent games. Imagine the possibility of swimming finals taking place at midnight at the London games of 2012 to ensure a prime time slot in New York. Proponents of the switch call that ridiculous thinking, but the principle is the same – athletes being disadvantaged to suit TV.
What makes the decision doubly galling is the fact that the finals will only fit live into prime time on the East coast of the US; on the West coast swimming will either be shown outside of prime time or tape-delayed. In making this decision, which seemingly only benefits less than half of the US population, the IOC has disenfranchised the local broadcasters, athletes and swimming fans almost everywhere else.