ESPN and NBC Will Keep Reporters and Announcers Home from Beijing Winter Olympics

You'll never guess why ...

Security officers walk by a billboard for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
Security officers walk by a billboard for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Kevin Frayer/Getty

Two of the top American media outlets that will be covering next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing will not be sending reporters or announcers to cover the Games, and it has nothing to do with the Chinese laws about free speech that have some Olympians spooked about opening their mouths.

No, predictably, it is concerns about COVID-19 that have led NBC and ESPN to conclude sending staffers to China to cover the games is not a good idea.

Though the face of NBC Sports, Mike Tirico, will pull international double duty and head to Beijing to anchor coverage of the Winter Olympics before flying to Los Angeles to host the Super Bowl pregame show next month, the home network of the Games will not send any of its announcing teams to China. NBC had planned to send broadcast teams for figure skating, Alpine skiing and snowboarding in China, but those plans have been scrapped.

“The announce teams for these Olympics, including figure skating, will be calling events from our Stamford [Conn.] facility due to COVID concerns,” Greg Hughes, senior vice president communications at NBC Sports, told USA Today. “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.”

Though NBC had a reduced number of announcing teams in Tokyo for the delayed Summer Olympics in July-August 2021, the network did have on-site crews for popular sports including swimming and gymnastics. “I think they were a little bit wary that if someone tested positive for COVID, the Chinese government basically takes you and sequesters you,” NBC snowboarding analyst Todd Richards told USA Today. “NBC has no control, so they wanted to have more control over the situation.”

At ESPN, the game plan is also to provide coverage of the Games remotely once the competition begins next month. The Worldwide Leader, which sent five employees to last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, had planned to send four reporters to China. Now those will join a larger group dedicated to covering the Games remotely from the U.S.

“The safety of our employees is of utmost importance to us,” said ESPN executive VP Norby Williamson. “With the pandemic continuing to be a global threat, and with the COVID-related on-site restrictions in place for the Olympics that would make coverage very challenging, we felt that keeping our people home was the best decision for us.”

The Games are slated to begin on February 4.

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