September 22, 2000 2:35 PM PDT

Web writers kept on Olympics sidelines

ESPN.com executive editor John Marvel was ready to send his top two sports writers to the Sydney Olympics but knew the chances of getting his hands on press credentials were pretty thin.

Since the advent of online journalism, not one Web reporter has been allowed to cover an official Olympic event. This year, it turns out, will be no different.

Instead, sports Web sites have had to rely on stories produced by traditional wire services: Reuters and The Associated Press. Marvel's writers, effectively, are missing out on some of the biggest sports stories of the year.


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"The Olympic Committee told us they're treating the Internet as a rights holder and that we are not an official rights holder," Marvel explained. "We believe we should have the ability to cover the games as journalists--I want my reporters inside."

Though the Olympics this year have been billed as the first full-blown Internet games, online news organizations have been hampered in providing original coverage. Not only has the committee blocked out e-reporters, but it has also banned online video coverage of the events.

The Web is offering coverage, perhaps much more than what is found in newspapers or on television. On the Net, a fan can send an email to a U.S. Olympic athlete, learn about the rules of handball, and, perhaps most importantly, get competition results long before they are broadcast on TV.

But the rules have prompted at least one analyst to sympathize with sports fans looking for expanded coverage--beyond the reporting of traditional media.

"The rules and restrictions placed on Web reporters make it disappointing for sports fans," said Forrester Research analyst Eric Scheier, who wrote a report titled "No Gold for These Online Olympics."

But he believes that nationalistic pressure combined with promises of bigger advertising revenues will lead to more opportunities for original Web coverage. The 2004 Games in Athens, he said, will mark the first broadband Olympics.

Olympic committee members could not immediately be reached for comment but have already scheduled a summit in December to review the committee's online policy.

Marvel is crossing his fingers, hoping his reporters will be able to attend the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

In the meantime, NBC, which does have the rights to cover this year's games, is expected to air some 400 hours of competition over the 17-day event.

But because of the time zone problems--Sydney is 17 hours ahead of San Francisco and nine hours ahead of Paris--not a single second of it is live. Sports enthusiasts, therefore, are told to go to the Web for faster results.

 

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