That would result in a hugely watered-down version of ABC’s previous Olympic coverage, something that Coates believes will hit especially hard in country and remote areas, where the ABC radio broadcast may be their only way of keeping up to date with the Games.
“It’s obviously very disappointing. It’s been very, very important over the years for the AOC. I particularly think of people in the country, who might be sitting on a tractor or out in the paddock. If you talked to rural Australia, that’s where the largest disappointment will be,” Coates said.
“It’s taken me by surprise. I think of all the legends of the ABC: Norman May, Jim Maxwell, Gordon Bray… all of those guys. Just because we have greater television coverage doesn’t mean people have access to that every day during their normal lives.
“We’re going to miss something very big here. I hope good sense prevails. I hope the government understands the important of coverage of the Olympics for the nation. Australians have derived a great benefit from the achievements of our Olympians. I think it’s going to leave a very, very big void in the lives of a lot of people.”
Coates said he had been given no indication by ABC management that they would not purchase the non-commercial rights from host broadcaster Seven, a move described as a ‘national shame’ by ABC Grandstand presenter Quentin Hull, who would have likely called swimming in Tokyo.
“I would have thought a phone call. In the past they haven’t been backwards in speaking to us when they thought we could help with the price Seven was charging for passing on these rights. We’ve been involved in the past but no call this time. I find that disappointing.”
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll was scathing of the decision and vowed to press the case with ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose, while Coates said he was intrigued by the response of the Prime Minister and oppositon leader once the fire crisis had subsided.
“The ABC should reconsider this decision. The AOC is prepared to put this case to the chair of the ABC directly, on behalf of the eight million Australians who participate in Olympic sports,” Carroll said.
“The AOC believes the decision is monumentally short-sighted and a great let down to Australians who rely on their national broadcaster – from the smallest of communities to our suburbs.”
ABC sports staff were deflated when the news was made public, with Australian’s national broadcaster now out in the cold compared to BBC in the United Kingdom, which will have television and radio coverage despite budget cuts of their own.
“It’s an absolutely flat feeling walking in to work this morning … it makes me feel empty in the stomach,” said ABC Grandstand’s Alister Nicholson, who was part of the 2016 Olympics commentary team. “I’m not so much disappointed for myself, I’m disappointed for the athletes and for the public.”
Brisbane-based Hull said: “The ABC will lose part of its DNA by not being at the Tokyo Olympics. The coverage has always shed a light on amazing stories of not only Australians, but human achievement the world over. It’s a national shame.”