Clare Balding will be the face of the BBC’s Winter Olympics coverage, with actor Charles Dance providing the “voice of nature”, under the corporation’s plans to deliver 650 hours of live action from Sochi 2014.
The BBC promises “the most complete digital coverage of a Winter Olympic Games to date” when the competition begins in Russia next month. There will be six HD channels and two red button streams delivering live events, alongside 200 hours of network television.
After declining to join a boycott of the Games in protest against the rising tide of homophobic persecution in Russia, Ms Balding, one of the most prominent and LGBT figures in the UK media, will anchor the BBC’s coverage. She will also introduce the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Ms Balding said she would present from Russia “because I am a sports presenter who happens to be gay. I think the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission.”
Actor Stephen Fry had called for the Games to be banned, comparing the event to the 1936 Berlin Olympics which took place amid the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.
His intervention followed the passage of a law in Russia’s lower house of Parliament, the Duma, imposing fines for those who spread information about homosexuality and comments by sports minister Vitaly Mutk who said that those who spread gay “propaganda” would be punished.
Charles Dance, the actor, will be the voice of “nature” in a trail to promote the BBC’s coverage. The Game of Thrones actor speaks “a foreboding verse to set a challenge to the Winter Olympic athletes to overcome its extreme elements.” The trail, which will set the tone for the BBC’s opening credits, will be given a “premiere” before Sherlock on BBC1 this Sunday.
Utilising digital advances trialled during the 2012 London Olympics, all of the Winter Games content will be available on PCs, tablets and mobiles.
The BBC said that the “state-of-the-art underlying technology can be used across the BBC, enabling even more live events to be given the digital treatment, cost effectively, and leave a legacy for the future.” The cost of covering the Games is expected to be a third of the £66 million the BBC spent covering the London event.
Balding will be joined by Hazel Irvine and Jonathan Edwards in the Games studio. The BBC has lined up expert commentators including former figure skater Robin Cousins, Olympic skier Graham Bell and former alpine skier Emma Carrick-Anderson.
Ron Chakraborty, Lead Executive of Major Events for BBC Sport, said: “BBC Sport is very proud to be able to offer such extensive coverage from Sochi 2014 - after delivering London 2012 we’re once again at the forefront of bringing the most innovative and accessible multi-platform sports coverage to our audiences. The Winter Olympics is a big part of a fantastic year of sport on the BBC which also includes the World Cup and Commonwealth Games.”
The Opening Ceremony, which will see more than 2,000 performers welcoming the world to Russia, will be live on BBC Two and BBC Two HD from 3.30pm on 7 February.