Swimmers off blocks early in Beijing

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Thursday that the swimming finals and much of the gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be held in the morning.

Verbruggen (L), Wu Bangguo (C) and Beijing Olympics chief Liu Qi
Verbruggen (L), Wu Bangguo (C) and Beijing Olympics chief Liu Qi

Hein Verbruggen, IOC coordination commission chairman, said at a news conference that the competition schedule for the Games had finally been agreed by the IOC’s executive board.


“After a thorough consultation process, the IOC Executive Board has approved a final version of the competition schedule which sees a spread of events throughout the day, with some finals in the morning, some in the evening,” Verbruggen told a press conference.


“There can never be a perfect ‘one size fits all’ solution which suits each and every stakeholder equally, but the IOC decision has endeavoured to find the best balance for the Olympic movement as a whole,” he added.


Team and all-round individual gymnastics events will be held in the morning, while the individual apparatus events will be contested during evening sessions.


All track and field finals will take place in the evening with the usual exception of the marathon.


The shift of the swimming finals to mornings is sure to cause further uproar, with some swimmers accusing the IOC of putting the interests of U.S. broadcaster NBC before the needs of the athletes.


“I would like to deny that we are doing the bidding of certain broadcasters,” Verbruggen said.


“It has always been like this, the schedule is always the result of a thorough consultation process and what comes out of this is a compromise. For example, in Seoul in 1988, many events were held in the morning.


“The impression being given is that this is a special case, this is not true.”


TV rights


By moving events to the mornings in Beijing, television audiences in the United States will be able to view them during prime-time on NBC, which paid $3.55 billion for the exclusive North American media rights to the 2000-2008 Games.


Swimming is one of the biggest draw cards for American audiences, with the U.S. team led by Michael Phelps, winner of six gold medals at Athens 2004, enjoying a great rivalry with the Australian team.


The decision to change the schedule was only made after the IOC had thoroughly discussed the move with the athletes commission, and after they had been convinced the physiology of athletes would not be affected, according to an IOC spokeswoman.


Asked whether it was fair on Chinese television viewers who may not be able to watch morning events because they would be working, the IOC’s Gilbert Felli said swimming was just one of many sports at the Games.


“We are not talking about the swimming world championships, there will plenty of other competitions for the Chinese to watch on television in the evening,” he said.


The Games of the 29th Olympiad will take place in Beijing from August 8 to 24, 2008.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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