The BBC billed its Tokyo 2020 coverage as the jewel of its ‘Summer of Sport’. There is just one problem with this premise: a lack of sport.

Viewers are normally spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming the Games, where they are accustomed to live-streaming hundreds of fixtures free-of-charge on the red button or iPlayer. 

According to a report in Variety, that all changed in 2016 when the International Olympic Committee and American giant Discovery – which also has a stake in GB News – agreed a $1.5 Billion European broadcasting rights deal to the dismay of the stripped-for-cash Beeb.

They have wrangled Eurosport, which is owned by Discovery, for sub-licensing, but have only secured a pitiful 350 hours of live action, a whopping 4,500 hours less than its offering in Rio 2016. 

The deal isn’t just having repercussions for sports-loving Brits; 50 or so European territories are grappling with the consequences of restrained free-to-air coverage.

Italy’s state broadcaster RAI doesn’t have streaming rights, meaning it has resorted to cutting between events – much to the fury of Italian viewers. 

The BBC insisted before the Opening Ceremony that it would be showing “must-see moments”, despite being capped to just two live feeds (one on television, another online). But viewers have signalled their fury at the state broadcaster for missing some key events from the Far East. Including, but not limited to:

  • The women’s artistic gymnasts taking bronze – their first medal since 1928.
  • Bradly Sinden winning silver in taekwondo, which was announced on the BBC Sport Twitter account before being shown on TV.
  • Chelsie Giles’ judo bronze, Team GB’s first medal of the Games.
  • Simone Biles, the U.S. gymnast sensation, returning from her mental health break to win bronze on the beam.
  • Breaststroke Olympic champion Adam Peaty’s swimming heat.
  • Kye Whyte’s silver medal ride in BMX.

Lorde Grade and Sir Michael Lyons, both former BBC chairmen, are now calling for the Government to broaden the broadcasting rules, and John Grogan, the veteran Labour MP who was previously chair of the APPG on the BBC, says that legislation is needed to ensure a repeat of 2020 does not happen again.
Damian Collins, ex-Chairman of the Commons, Digital, Culture and Media Sport Select Committee has also made a complaint to the regulator Ofcom over the BBC’s coverage.

Presenters Dan Walker and Matt Baker have spoken out in defence of their employer, with Walker saying it is “not an editorial choice”. But with Discovery’s deal lasting until Paris 2024 and a competitive bid from ITV potentially in the works, could the BBC’s Olympics torch – which has been unbroken since the 1960 Games in Rome – soon be extinguished?