London 2012 considers charging for internet access

From Barry Newcombe in Antalya and Steven Downes in London
London’s Olympic organisers, mindful of keeping the event under their £2 billion budget for staging the Games, could be looking to an unusual source of income in 2012: sports journalists.

It is almost unheard of for a summer Games to charge the media for internet access, but today Jayne Pearce, the head of press operations at the London organisers, revealed that sports journalists working at the Olympics and Paralympics will probably be expected to pay in 2012. This, despite LOCOG having signed a £80 million sponsorship deal with BT, one of the world’s biggest telecom companies.

The SJA wrote to LOCOG after the Vancouver Winter Games, asking for an undertaking that there would not be any internet charging to accredited media in 2012. This followed the Vancouver organisers charging journalists nearly £400 for internet access. In some cases, journalists were expected to pay twice because they were covering both the Olympics and Paralympics.

According to one senior journalist who covered Vancouver, “Fourteen days’ access cost £170 and then I bought a couple of three-day passes which cost £60 each. So to cover the Games for 20 days cost us £390 per reporter.

“However, the wireless was incredibly shaky and we needed to rely on being hard-wired.”

The Vancouver organisers, like London, had a major telecoms company among their sponsors.

There has been a creeping trend among sports event organisers in recent years to supplement their budgets with excessive charges to journalists for the use of facilities to conduct their work – and thereby publicise the event and the sponsors who fund it.

The 2007 swimming World Championships in Melbourne charged journalists £800 for use of a poolside desk at the event to balance a budget which had failed to allow for the cost of generous cash prizes for medallists.

Organisers of the cricket World Cup in the Caribbean fleeced journalists for nearly £400 for internet access during the tournament, a move seen by many as the event’s telecoms “partner” seeking to recoup its sponsorship outlay from the media.

Keir Radnedge, the SJA member who chairs the AIPS football commission, said: “There were three levels of internet charging to the accredited media at the Beijing Olympics: expensive, astronomical and extortionate.

“At the World Cup this year, because of AIPS pressure, there will be free internet access for the first time in stadiums and media areas. Euro2008 also had free internet for the first time.”

Pearce was at the annual congress of the international sports press organisation, AIPS, in Antalya, Turkey. Speaking to journalists before her presentation, she described the anticipated internet access charges in London as “very reasonable”. At present, BT is running a series of consumer offers, including free broadband for three months for new customers as part of its promotional packages.

A full media rate card for the 2012 Games will be announced in August.

Internet access for the media – an essential facility for photographers and reporters to be able to do their work – has been provided free of charge at previous Olympic Games as well as at other major sports events, such as the athletics World Championships in Berlin last year.

Perhaps significantly, today Pearce said that every workstation in the MPC and at the Games’s 24 venues will have cabled internet access; this may suggest that wireless will not be available.

Pearce’s media team in London expect 5,600 journalists in 2012.

There will be 30 hotels and hostels in the Bloomsbury area of London offering 5,000 rooms for the media in 2012, with “indicative pricing” ranging from £50 per person per night for “university” rooms, £90 pppn for “budget” rooms, to £125 pppn in four-star accommodation.

Journalists will be accredited through a process which begins in July this year and reaches a deadline in January 2012.

Pearce assured her audience of delegates from around the world that London intended to provide better catering at venue media centres than was available in Beijing and Vancouver, and she was “working very hard” on catering in the Main Press Centre.

Test events at Olympic venues will start in the late spring next year.

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