The Olympic Games: "Being part of the whole event I think is certainly very special, it lives in your memories”
We sat down with our Managing Editor, Andrew Parkinson to discuss all things Olympic Games; from memorable moments, to how covering the Games has changed over the years, to what sport he'd like to compete in.
What is the best part of covering the Olympic Games? "Being part of the whole event is I think is certainly very special, it lives in your memories"
The best part about covering the Games is that you're able to be part of what is the single largest sporting event, arguably alongside a World Cup, in the world. It is always great to be part of something that the world is focused on for two weeks.
Having said all of that, you are working at these sporting events, and you don't get to see as much as people think you do. People just assume you've been to every single major sporting event and so have seen the final and the great moments. When, you may have seen them, but the chances are you were watching them whilst in the press centre looking on a monitor whilst working on another story.
Also, they're all very different, because of where they are in the world. They all have their own special characteristics. The first one I attended was in Athens, and then Beijing which had a very different feel, and was a huge event as they’d spent a fortune on it. Then you had London which of course, being at home, was a very special thing to be at. It was weird that in the weeks leading up, it felt as if no one wanted it, but as soon as it started everyone wanted it and thought it was a fantastic idea.
What is your most memorable Olympic moment? An interview, a win, a viral moment any of those?
My most memorable Olympic moment isn't actually at the Olympics itself, it was in Singapore when they were making the announcement for the 2012 Olympics. France had gone into the announcement as favourites and London was on the fringe. However, there was a change in the atmosphere because you had the likes of Tony Blair and David Beckham turning up and they really put themselves out there to push forward the London bid. Then when the announcement came it was an incredible moment, and then I had to kneel at David Beckham’s feet, putting my arm up in the air in order to get an interview soundbite, that was really memorable.
I have also been very lucky that my last three Olympics have coincided with Usain Bolt, and there is no doubt that he was incredible. I remember when he won the gold in Beijing, he just transcends the sport, he was a great showman that just spread joy. Also, he was comparatively easy to deal with as well, he spent time with you even as a non-rightsholders. That is my main memory of that Beijing event but there have been so many great moments.
How many Olympics have you covered now?
I’ve been to four so far and all four I have attended have been very different. The world has changed during that time and the sport has also changed hugely; the ability of the men and women to earn lots of money whilst doing their sport has changed in that period as well. “I'm a great fan of sport.”
I also think I’ve been across that last era where countries are forced into hosting the Olympics or thought they could and discovered they couldn't afford to. Going forward it will be interesting to see what happens because I don't think countries are going to build facilities in the same way they have in the past, just for the Olympic Games. You're going to find more cities that have already got the basic structure sorted out, they'll be the ones that will be allowed to take the Games. This also means it limits the numbers of places in the world that could hold the Games, possibly because of that you’re never going to get one in Africa.
What was your favourite Olympic sport to watch and or cover?
I'm a big fan of athletics, I’ve always enjoyed that. Olympic boxing is also fantastic; I'm a great fan of boxing and the format of boxing – that makes it exciting. I got a chance to go and watch The Rugby Sevens in Rio which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Also, at the Olympics, you get to see sports that you wouldn’t normally see like Olympic wrestling, which is actually fascinating. The beach volleyball in Brazil on the beach was incredible to watch and you got some fantastic footage and matches. I'm not necessarily a massive fan of basketball, but whenever the USA team is playing it is worth covering.
But I also really enjoy the whole event of being able to go and see top sports men and women, the best in the world, compete in their sport. I think that's a great privilege you have when you cover the Olympics.
Are there any sports that you hope will be added to the Olympics in the future?
I've always felt a little bit sorry for squash, in the sense that I think they try very hard to make it visually appealing and by and large, they have succeeded. If you look at the numbers of people that participate in squash, and who understand and know squash, I think it should be included. I think it’s so important for them to move that sport to another level and exposing some of these great athletes to a different audience is key. That's part of what the Olympics is about, and I think squash deserves to be there.
I’m quite pleased that some of the more urban and extreme sports are coming in. I think that you have to be aware of your audience, and if you want to attract younger fans, you've got to include your skateboarding and your rock climbing, which is a good thing. The Olympics has realised that it needs to add these in to attract these younger audiences. However, my concern is that the Olympics has the ‘one in one out’ policy, so will some of the smaller sports get replaced because they are not as popular, yet they'll keep in tennis or golf, which maybe don’t need that level of exposure as they have big sports events in their own right.
What impact do you think the delay of the Olympics has had from an editorial point of view?
We plan a long time in advance for every tournament because you have to – choosing your crews and organising the coverage. You plan meticulously so that it goes well. Now, of course, it's all very much up in the air, we still don't really know what we will or will not be allowed to do.
"mixture of fans and cultures and being able to discover a city like Tokyo is amazing"I think it’s also thrown our clients’ plans in the air because we live in the world of the non-rightsholder and it looks like at the moment if you don't have an accreditation you can't go into the country. There's a lot of our clients who don't actually get accredited because they just shoot content around the city, and this time around without accreditation they won't be able to do that. Therefore, I expect they will rely more on the content we can provide. Also, will they expect us to be doing some of the stories that they planned to cover? I think it is potentially an opportunity to show increased value to our clients.
Normally the mixture of fans and cultures and being able to discover a city like Tokyo is amazing, and naturally what happens is the locals actively want you to enjoy their city. I think that the atmosphere in Japan will not be as accommodating as usual, as I think there is a trepidation within Tokyo from both the organisers and the people themselves, which is completely understandable, so we may not get the kind of cooperation locally we would normally expect. That means that it may be more difficult to shoot content within Tokyo, so it could have a significant effect on how we work and what we do.
How has covering the Olympics changed over the years?
There are a couple of aspects, one is from a technical perspective. When we went to Athens, anything we filmed, we would then have to take back to the base and edit the content from there. Then you'd have to send it back via what we thought at the time was a state-of-the-art piece of kit – a mobile satellite dish... I remember the issue we had was where we put the dish – if it was in the midday sun it would keep breaking down because it got too hot. You also had to book a satellite time when you literally had 10 minutes to send it back and that's how it would work.
Today, you've got a cameraman who you can send to Great Britain House, they go there, they do the interview have a cup of coffee while editing the piece, and then FTP it back to base and we put it out straight away. In fact, now we can streamline the situation even further whereby they can sit on their laptop, create the story, publish it and it goes straight to the client without even touching our London or Singapore newsrooms. So, I think that's a huge difference from a technology point of view.
I also think what's been interesting is there has always been a huge difference between what you can and cannot do as rights and non-rights holders at the Olympic Games. Access to stadiums and athletes hasn’t changed, but what has changed is athletes’ attitudes. They now understand that they have sponsors to satisfy and have become more in control, so have given more access to non-rights holders, by putting on events for example at team houses. Sponsors have also recognised this opportunity isn’t just to win clients but also allows them to use their athletes to get their messages out to the wider world. "content available to non-rights holders, which is always an admirable thing"
Part of this change is to do with social media. Content is more easily accessible because of this, and people can make money from these areas as well, it’s not just traditional television anymore. I think this change has been a welcome one, I feel that the Olympics has always had this ideal that they will make a certain amount of content available to non-rights holders, which is always an admirable thing and I totally agree with it. But they, as yet, haven't grasped the digital side of that, they're still only allowing it for broadcast and I feel that’s wrong, the world is changing, and they’ve got to change with it. We go back to younger people and how they consume their sports – it’s not normally in long-form it’s in bite-sized pieces, so they’ve still got a bit to change.
If you could compete in an Olympic sport, what would it be and why?
I love athletics, I used to do a little bit when I was a lot younger. I would love to be a 100-metre runner, but then also being a 400-metre runner, as painful as it would be, to win that would be the one I’d want. I have so much admiration for that discipline, as you effectively sprint 400 metres which amazes me.
We would like to say a special thanks to Andrew for taking the time to talk to us and for sharing his experiences.
If you haven't already read our first discussion with Andrew focussing on the EUROs, from memorable moments, to how covering the tournament has changed over the years, and what he really thinks about VAR.