As the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games approach and COVID-19 concerns mount, NBC Sports will not send any of its announcing teams to China, a spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports.
“The announce teams for these Olympics, including figure skating, will be calling events from our Stamford (Connecticut) facility due to COVID concerns,” Greg Hughes, senior vice president communications, NBC Sports, said in a phone interview.
“We’ll still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing and our coverage of everything will be first rate as usual, but our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics.”
NBC’s broadcasting teams for figure skating, Alpine skiing and snowboarding had been expected to be in Beijing, but those plans have been canceled.
The network’s Olympic host, Mike Tirico, will still be in China for the Feb. 4 opening ceremony and the first few days of the Games, but will then leave for Los Angeles to host the Feb. 13 Super Bowl, which also is on NBC this year.
Many of the announce teams for the various Winter Olympic sports were already scheduled to be based in Stamford. NBC employed a similar strategy for its coverage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in July-August 2021, although some of the broadcasting crews were on site for the most popular sports, including swimming and gymnastics.
That of course was well before the omicron variant began raging around the world, creating increasing concerns that anyone traveling to Beijing, from the athletes of the world to accredited members of the media, could test positive while at the Games and have to spend days and even weeks in quarantine.
“The Beijing model is going to be very similar to Tokyo in that the heartbeat of our Olympic operation will actually be in Stamford, Connecticut, at our NBC Sports headquarters. We’ll have more personnel there than in the host city,” said Molly Solomon, president and executive producer, NBC Olympics Production.
“With COVID’s changing conditions and China’s zero-tolerance policy, it’s just added a layer of complexity to all of this so we need to make sure we can provide the same quality experience to the American viewers. That’s why we are split between the two cities.”
Snowboarding analyst Todd Richards told USA TODAY Sports that NBC changed course this week over concerns about COVID-related restrictions.
“I think they were a little bit wary that if someone tested positive for COVID, the Chinese government basically takes you and sequesters you,” he said. “NBC has no control, so they wanted to have more control over the situation.”
As a practical matter, Richards said, the move has little effect on his work, and that of play-by-play announcer Todd Harris, because they are not usually close enough to the course to call the action even when they are on site. Because of COVID-related rules, all media must maintain distance from the athletes.
“At all the Olympics anyhow, we’re just staring at a computer screen,” he said.
Richards said the on-air talent working from the United States will keep a “vampire schedule” as they stay on the schedule for the Games in Beijing, which is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast.
“We’re talking about snowboarding, and I don’t even care,” Richards said. “As long as we can watch the best snowboarding ever, I don’t care if I’m sitting in a studio at 2 in the morning. I’m still going to be just as excited.”
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