Even though today is the 20th anniversary of Day 10 of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games – and even though we’re in a very unique Olympic year with no Games occurring – those of you with keen eyes will no doubt have noticed the curious absence of past highlights. Specifically, the relative lack of footage from the Sydney games being shown on TV and online. With the Tokyo Games being postponed until next year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and the on-going 20th anniversary of Sydney 2000, it would seem like the perfect opportunity to put the best of Australia’s Olympics back on display. And yet, relatively nothing. But as it turns out, there’s a very specific reason for that, and it’s largely to do with the IOC.

The most immediate issue at play here is that even though the Seven Network originally broadcast the Games in Australia, it doesn’t mean it can just pull that footage out of its archives and re-run it. Quite the opposite, in actual fact.

The IOC has extremely strict broadcasting rights arrangements that not only cover upcoming or on-going Olympic events, but archival footage of past events as well.

TV broadcasters who want to use footage from the Sydney Games have to purchase the rights to air it in 2020. And that includes Seven, remarkably enough.

So while Seven did air a two-part retrospective series on the Games in late July, accessing all that footage likely cost them a comically large pile of cash.

As detailed by Media Watch last night, the ABC’s recent Freeman documentary utilised a total of 15 minutes of Olympics footage. For that privilege, they had to pay the IOC a truly staggering US$75,000 (AUD$105,983).

That Media Watch report also included comment from the Seven Network’s head of Olympics coverage Andy Kay, who confirmed that even they have to re-purchase the rights to Sydney footage from the IOC.

“What is clear is that replays of a wonderful sporting event involving thousands of Australian volunteers and millions of Australian taxpayers’ money is now in the unreasonably tight-fisted control of the IOC in Switzerland. So much for the Olympic spirit of fairplay and friendship,” host Paul Barry stated.

That point, however, merely covers TV re-broadcasts of the Games. The IOC’s grip on their broadcast rights is so tight that it even affects what can and can’t be shown on social media.

In that Media Watch segment, Barry alluded to a media industry concept known as “fair dealing” provisions. And when it comes to the Olympics, those provisions are particularly tight.

For TV channels and media outlets to broadcast footage of the Games without broadcast rights permission, they’ve got to adhere to what’s known as News Access Rules.

As an example, during the Rio 2016 games that meant digital outlets and websites who did not hold broadcast accreditation – like us here at PEDESTRIAN.TV – had to adhere to a “3 x 3 x 1” restriction. We were allowed to broadcast 3 “news bulletins” of Olympics footage per day, they had to be 3 hours apart, and could only include 1 minute of Olympic footage at the most.

That, quite obviously, differs for networks that do hold broadcast rights agreements, but as far as the Sydney Olympics are concerned no one has that status in 2020.

And it’s for that reason that highlights packages online are few and far between.

It’s the reason why the AOC’s on-going retrospective series is limited to still images only.

It’s the reason why the 7Olympics social channels only upload short clips of Sydney highlights (Olympic News Access rules also stipulate that you can’t show any more than a third of a race, which is bonkers considering it’s a thing that happened 20 years ago).

And it’s also the reason that the official IOC-run social media channels limit where and how their footage can be embedded. Archival event footage seldom appears on Twitter and Facebook, where they can’t control embedding, and only sporadically appears on YouTube, where they can. It’s the latter point that means you can’t watch a video embedded in an article like this one, as we’ve done below. Hitting play will simply prompt you to go to YouTube to watch the video instead.

So for those combined reasons – and a few more that are a little too Inside Baseball even for this story – that’s why you’re not seeing the glorious re-visit of the Sydney 2000 games right now. Even though, in its 20th anniversary, it’s richly deserved.

That decision is in the hands of the IOC. And it’s one they apparently have very little interest in entertaining.

Image: Getty Images / Mike Powell