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NBC Will Not Send Announcers to Beijing Winter Olympics, Citing COVID-19 Concerns

The announcement followed a warning from Team USA that athlete's personal cell phone data may be under surveillance from the Chinese government

NBC has opted not to send announcers to China for the upcoming Olympic Games.

Instead, the majority of the network’s work will be conducted from the NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. This is the second consecutive  Olympic Games the network has made this call.

Molly Solomon, the head of NBC’s Olympics production unit, said in a statement that the company was concerned about COVID-19 and China’s zero-tolerance policy regarding infections.

“Something significant has changed virtually every day for the last three months, forcing us to adjust our plan numerous times. And I expect that to continue as well as the challenge of doing the Olympics,” said Soloman.

“With COVID’s changing conditions and China’s zero-tolerance policy, it’s just added a layer of complexity to all of this, so we need to make sure we can provide the same quality experience to the American viewers,” she said. “That’s why we are split between the two cities.”

About 250 people employed by NBC are already in Beijing. Most are a part of the network’s technical team.

“We are in a closed loop. It is restrictive access, but it does allow us to access the broadcast center and venues,” said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel to AP News. Zenkel is one of the few network members in China’s capital.

Announcers for alpine skiing, figure skating, and snowboarding had been expected to be sent to China for the games but will now remain in the US following NBC’s decision.

Prime-time Olympics host Mike Tirico will still travel to China to cover the games from Feb. 3 to 10 before returning to California. He’ll then host the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 for NBC.

“We’ll still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing and our coverage of everything will be first rate as usual, but our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics,” Greg Hughes, NBC Sport’s senior vice president communications, told USA Today.

“I think they were a little bit wary that if someone tested positive for COVID, the Chinese government basically takes you and sequesters you,” said Snowboarding analyst Todd Richards to USA Today. “NBC has no control, so they wanted to have more control over the situation.”

The network’s minimal in-person presence comes a week after US athletes were encouraged to use burner phones to avoid surveillance from the Chinese government.

Team USA issued an advisory to all athletes that their personal devices could be at risk.

“Like computers, the data and applications on cell phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection and data compromise,” the organization warned

The Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee issued a statement saying collected personal data would not be misused.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of personal information,” the Committee said in a statement. “Personal information collected by Beijing 2022 will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary. Information of accredited media representatives will only be used for purposes related to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

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