Both American and British coverage of the Olympics is embarrassing and self-serving

Dishonest medal ranking tables and mockery of regional accents abounds

Ali-Asghar Abedi
Tuesday 03 August 2021 18:33
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An ongoing pandemic means that this has been an Olympics like no other. But in many ways, it has been just like every other Olympics: there are opening and closing ceremonies, national controversies and coverage hosted by freelancers who think athletes representing Panama are from Panama City, Florida and therefore are on Team USA.

Of course it’s not just geography where such coverage is challenged, it’s also arithmetic: NBC, the US Olympics broadcaster, insists on ranking countries based on total medal count and not the number of golds won — as do other American outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post. This unorthodox way of reporting on the Games artificially elevates Team USA into the top position on the medal table.

To be fair to NBC and its compatriots, I can forgive them for trying to propel the United States into a world-leading position in something aspirational. Most of the things that the US leads the world in are pretty unsavory: military spending; number of incarcerated people per capita; school shootings; willingness to rationalize homelessness as a lifestyle choice — the list goes on.

I imagine that most American viewers haven’t noticed such a creative approach to Olympic medal accounting is out of the ordinary; mostly because to the American viewer, an hour of Olympic viewing entails watching 55 minutes of Proctor and Gamble ads, 4 minutes of Jimmy Fallon failing to be funny, 50 seconds of promotions for the company’s fledging Peacock streaming service and a 10-second interlude in which to watch the 100-meter final.

Team USA medaled in the men’s 100-meter final when Fred Kerley scored a silver for finishing with a time of 9.84 seconds. Ironically, this is the same amount of time required for Republicans to try to suppress his vote based on the color of his skin. It’s good to see how the country has moved on since the Rome Olympics in 1960, when Muhammad Ali won gold for the US and faced Jim Crow upon his return to Louisville.

But there are good things to be said about America’s coverage of the Games; John Williams’ excellent Olympics theme music, for instance, which is sadly missing from the BBC’s coverage of Team GB. Most of the BBC’s coverage in the United Kingdom has emanated from their studios in Salford, where a diverse array of talent presenting the Games has done a good job of masking the fact that they’re not actually in Tokyo.

Unlike American outlets, the BBC hasn’t artificially inflated Team GB’s position in the Olympic medal table by ranking by total medals, or by counting medals won by Commonwealth nations (which I can imagine Conservative MPs might have floated as an idea, right before they went back to signing off deportations.) Based on gold medal count, Team GB is currently ranked sixth with 13 first-place finishes. Note: this does not include Digby Jones’ gold medal for world’s most sickening pedant after his idiotic critique of broadcaster Alex Scott’s accent. I’m fairly confident that the BBC won’t give Digby Jones too much airtime after his attention-seeking comments. But I imagine he will find a way to perpetuate his false sense of grievance on GB News or even Tucker Carlson Tonight if he fancies a trip across the Atlantic.

Speaking of GB News, we are probably a few days away from the upstart broadcaster asserting that the International Olympic Committee has an anti-British bias for not including sports like waving, spending taxpayers’ money on biscuits, and extramarital affairs, all of which the Royal Family excel at. It’s only a matter of time before we’re told that the very existence of the Games is a direct insult to the Queen, one which was nefariously constructed in 1896 by malevolent time-travelers with Elizabeth II specifically in mind.

Sadly, the BBC’s coverage has underwhelmed when compared to previous Games since the rights to Olympic broadcasting in the UK are held by Eurosport and sub-licensed by the Beeb. The result is the lowest volume of Olympic coverage on the BBC in living memory. Reportedly, this was something the IOC was comfortable with, because Brexit and Prince Harry taught them that you never know when the British may leave — so you may as well prepare for them to fade ungracefully into obscurity.

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