Rio Paralympics scraps plans to expand number of sports covered live


Nearly half the sports at this summer’s Paralympic Games in Rio will not be covered live on television, after the host city scrapped plans to pay for an expansion of its coverage.

The Rio organising committee has decided not to provide the funding needed to increase the number of Paralympic sports that were covered live at London 2012, because it could not afford the extra expense.

This means that the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) will provide live TV feeds for just 13 of the 22 sports, so there will not be live coverage from Rio of some of the biggest British names from London 2012.

Channel 4 was responsible for the critically-acclaimed UK coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics and has the UK television rights for the Rio Paralympic Games.

But the UK broadcaster has no say over which events are covered live, and has instead pledged to provide its own camera teams “at the finish line” to at least “capture British medal wins and the reaction of athletes after their events”.

The sports that OBS will not cover live are goalball, triathlon, rowing, canoeing, sailing, shooting and archery, as well as road cycling, although track cycling will be covered.

There will also be no live pictures from the marathons, which means no coverage of one of the stars of the ParalympicsGB team, David Weir, in one of his gold medal events from London 2012.

And there will be no live feed from the equestrian events, which rules out another of the British team’s high-profile stars, Sophie Christiansen (pictured at London 2012), who won three golds at London 2012, and double gold-winner Natasha Baker.

The OBS decision also means there will be no live coverage of boccia, the sport that features those Paralympic athletes with the highest support needs.

The OBS plans are detailed in a Channel 4 briefing document obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) through the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington.

The document was prepared by Channel 4 after Lord Addington told the government of his plan to raise the issue of live Paralympic coverage in the House of Lords.

Channel 4 says in the document that it will broadcast “all sports with British representation” which are covered live by OBS, on Channel 4, More4 or its online channel All4.

It says the decision on which sports are covered live is made by OBS and the Rio 2016 local organising committee, and that it has been working with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), OBS and the Rio committee to “ascertain the scope for extending live coverage to all sports particularly where British teams are represented”. These efforts appear to have failed.

Lord Addington told DNS that he had heard about the problem at a parliamentary event on rowing, and emphasised that “it really isn’t Channel 4’s fault”.

Because the television coverage of London 2012 was so successful and had “set a precedent”, he said, it was assumed that it “would go on from there” with live coverage of more sports at Rio, but that had not happened.

He said: “One of the big successes of 2012 definitely was the way that the Paralympics was brought out to our attention, and I was hoping that this would be followed up [for Rio].

“There are a lot of events out there but I would hope as a matter of course that everything would be covered.

“This is something which should be a normal price of having the games: that all the Paralympic sports are covered.”

He said he wanted the government and the British Paralympic Association to ensure that all sports were covered live at future Paralympic Games, but the government had “ducked” this request.

He said he had been told the loss of extra live coverage was because of the crumbling Brazilian economy, with the local organising committee trying to cut down on the cost of expensive live outside broadcasting.

Last week (7 July), he asked the government to promise that it would encourage the IPC to insist that all future host cities “guarantee in the planning process that the Paralympic Games will have full coverage”.

He told fellow peers: “That will ensure that we do not have the situation we are in now, where certain sports will happen to be missed out, many of which have good British medal prospects.”

But the hereditary Tory peer the Earl of Courtown said it was for UK Sport to pressure the IPC on television coverage of future Paralympic Games.

Asked whether it was concerned at how many sports would not have live coverage, a Channel 4 spokeswoman said: “We will be showing more hours of live sport online and on television than we did in 2012.

“We are fully committed to giving the best coverage we possibly can and are continuing to work closely with the host broadcaster to that end.”

She added: “We’re delivering the most comprehensive and innovative coverage of the games ever.

“With a combination of live units and roving cameras we will cover rowing, canoeing, equestrian, sailing, road cycling, marathons, triathlon, boccia, archery and shooting and can be flexible on the ground to make sure we broadcast as many medal successes as possible.

“Our ambition is to show as many [British] medal-winning performances live as possible – every single medal will be reflected in the coverage.”

The Rio organising committee had not responded to a request for a comment by 11am today (Thursday).

But an OBS spokesman said: “In the Paralympic Games the scope of coverage is defined by the organizing committee of the Paralympic Games, in this case Rio 2016, as they are responsible for funding this production. 

“Usually, the baseline coverage for every Paralympic Games is the broadcast coverage plan from the previous games.

“In Rio, OBS, at the request of Rio 2016, developed a broadcast plan that included the sports covered live in London.

“OBS also proposed a few other sports for additional live coverage. This plan was presented to the Rio 2016 committee and the International Paralympic Committee with the corresponding budget.

“Rio 2016 then reviewed the proposal but eventually determined that the increase in live sports coverage was outside their budget and as a result, the live broadcast plan in Rio is identical to the plan from London.”

OBS was set up by the International Olympic Committee in 2001 and is responsible for providing “unbiased” pictures and sounds from all Olympic and Paralympic Games to broadcasters that hold the rights to broadcast the games in each country.

Channel 4 will provide nearly 120 hours of live television coverage across Channel 4 and More 4.

Nearly three-quarters of its presenters, reporters and pundits will be disabled – which Channel 4 says will be the largest number of disabled presenters ever seen on UK television – including its four daytime studio anchors and its entire swimming on-screen team, while more than 15 per cent of its Rio production team will be disabled people.

The Last Leg, featuring the disabled comedian Adam Hills and disabled journalist and presenter Alex Brooker, will be filmed live every night during the games in front of a studio audience at the Rio Olympic Park.

Other disabled presenters will include Breaking Bad actor R J Mitte, broadcaster and campaigner Sophie Morgan and retired Paralympian Ade Adepitan, with reporters including retired Paralympians Steve Brown, Martine Wright, Steve Rose, Sophia Warner, Danny Crates, Giles Long, Liz Johnson and Peter Norfolk.

All coverage will be available with subtitles, and a signed and audio described version of the opening and closing ceremonies will be broadcast simultaneously on 4seven, with audio described and signed editions of The Last Leg available each evening on 4seven soon after the live broadcast.

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