Amateur sports on CBC block?

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

Amateur sports might pay a heavy price for the CBC's loss of Olympic broadcast rights.

That was the ominous sentiment delivered by Richard Stursberg, CBC Television's executive vice-president, during a radio interview in Vancouver yesterday.

Speaking on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition, Stursberg said the corporation may need to reassess its amateur sports commitment after losing out in the bidding for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.

"I think that as far as amateur sports are concerned on the CBC ... our premise, our work had been based on the assumption that we were part of the Olympic family," said Stursberg.

"But it turns out we are going to have to think again about that, since the (International Olympic Committee) has made it clear that it operates as more of a professional sports body than anything else."

The latter statement was clearly a shot at the staggering $153 million US bid by a Bell Globemedia/Rogers Media consortium that secured the rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 Summer Games.

It's believed CBC's bid was in the $100-105 million range.

CBC executives remain firm in their belief that the IOC, despite statements to the contrary, cared only about the size of the cheque in the bidding process. A report posted on the corporation's website yesterday said Carole Taylor, the chair of the CBC's board of directors, told staff in an e-mail "this decision was not about quality; it was about money."

Even before Monday's verdict, there was rampant speculation that failing to gain TV rights to the lucrative Vancouver Games would mean more cuts at the cash-strapped CBC. Amateur sports was feared to be first on the chopping block, but CBC Sports executive director Nancy Lee said Monday such talk was "premature."

The words spoken yesterday by Stursberg -- who reportedly has told CBC staffers that sports is not a priority of his -- would seem to paint a different picture.

Lee was a driving force behind the launch of CBC Sports Saturday, a four-hour block devoted to amateur sports coverage each weekend. Much of the programming has a link to the CBC's Olympic coverage, which will extend through next year's Turin Winter Games and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

After that, who knows?

50% INCREASE PROMISED

Canada's amateur sports athletes will surely hold the Bell/Rogers group to its promise of a 50% increase in televised amateur sports in the years leading up to Vancouver 2010. That, along with a cash contribution to amateur sport, was a major plank in the winning bid.

Rick Brace, the president of Bell-owned CTV Inc., said such a boost "makes absolute sense for us" as a lead-in to both Olympics. CTV operates TSN, RDS and the Outdoor Life Network, which are all part of the Olympic coverage plans.

"We are going to focus more on world events and Olympic qualifying events to make sure (amateur) athletes ... get a much broader exposure," said Brace.

Rogers Sportsnet president Doug Beeforth said it's "erroneous to say the combination of Bell Globemedia and Rogers has not been a good broadcaster of amateur sport."

He said TSN and Sportsnet's airtime for amateur sports outpaces the CBC "by a 2-1 ratio. And more than 60% of that is in prime time, when most people are watching."


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