BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Bob Costas and other top members of NBC’s Olympics coverage team veered between optimism and caution in predicting Rio de Janeiro’s ability to pull off a successful Summer Games and said NBC will cover the good and bad.
Other Olympics have taken place without significant difficulties and he hopes it will be the same for Rio, Costas said Tuesday. But he then ticked off the daunting list of challenges faced by the Brazilian city.
It would be “naive” to think it isn’t grappling with security worries, pollution and political turmoil along with a deep recession that’s occurred since Rio won the Games, Costas said.
He spoke to TV critics from Rio by satellite, along with executive producer Jim Bell and correspondent Mary Carillo. The opening ceremony airs Friday on NBC, which is carrying the games on the air and online.
Whether any city can carry off the immense event is the question heading into virtually every Olympics, Bell said. Then the athletes arrive, the Olympic torch is lit and that is the story the network tells, he said.
But if a host city falls short, he said, then NBC should focus on that.
Costas said that any security issues or ill effects from contaminated water will be immediately apparent and have to be addressed. So far, the best advice given athletes competing in open-water sailing or swimming events is to close their mouths and keep their heads above water, he added.
“I guess some new techniques will be required,” Costas said, sarcastically, adding, “I’m not trying to be facetious here, but it’s going to be impossible, in some cases, not to address some of the issues that have come up before the Olympics, because they will directly (effect) the competition.”
Many open-water competition test events have been held and resulted in “zero problems” so far, Bell said.
When Carillo chimed in that she will be helping to cover those contests, Costas asked her if she planned “to take a dip yourself.”
“Absolutely not,” she replied. She added, however, that she’s been told that open-water swimmers in the 2012 London Olympics faced dirtier conditions from goose droppings in Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake.
According to a 16-month-long study commissioned by The Associated Press, the waterways of Rio de Janeiro remain as filthy as ever just days before the Games begin and are contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria.
If illness or other crises arise, does NBC bear some responsibility for what happens because of the large license fee it pays to the International Olympics Committee, the NBC team was asked.
“I don’t think so,” Bell replied.
Costas expanded on that answer, saying that the Rio Games would happen without NBC’s involvement. The argument could be made that the IOC should have considered moving or postponing it, given the problems that began emerging months ago, he said.
“But once the games were being held, the network that owned the rights to televise those games was going to televise” them, Costas said, adding that the question about network responsibility “becomes how thoroughly and credibly do we cover it.”
His expectation is that NBC Sports and NBC News will not “shy away from that,” Costas said.
Asked if NBC could have used its financial-stake clout to influence the IOC, Bell said he didn’t think so.
“You could make the case Zika is a bigger story in Florida than in Rio, where it is winter, and cooler and drier,” he said. “Is Disneyland responsible for bringing people to Florida?”