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While appearing as a guest on The Late Show Wednesday night, Costas — who led 11 Olympic telecasts between 1988 and 2016 — said that not much of anything outside of a “complete disaster” will prevent the Tokyo Games from moving forward.
“I think they’re full speed ahead,” he told Late Show host Stephen Colbert.
While it is clear plans are to move forward with the Summer Games, Costas said postponing them another year would have been “the best thing,” both in terms of the pandemic and for the culture of the event.
“I realize the variants have added a different aspect to it, but there’s reason to believe that a year from now, the situation would be more under control,” he said. “You could have spectators in the stands; a larger percentage of the Japanese populace would be vaccinated. So, that would have been ideal, and it would have gone back to the old model where the Winter and Summer Olympics were the same year.”
As Costas noted, the Games will not feature spectators because of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, something he described as both “beyond unusual” and “weird.”
“Part of the Olympics is the travelogue, the cultural panorama, the cultural exchange between athletes for more than 200 different nations,” Costas explained. “All that’s out the window. They’re all, in effect, quarantined, and once your event is over, you’ve got five days to clear out of Japan and go home. So you don’t stick around for the closing ceremony, whatever that closing ceremony might be.”
Following the decision earlier in July by the Japanese government to declare a new state of emergency in Tokyo, most Olympic events will not feature fans in the stands. An NBC spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter that “we’re disappointed that there won’t be spectators at the events, but we’ve long had plans for enhancing the viewing experience across our many platforms.”
For winning athletes, NBC plans to have cameras in U.S. venues and family members’ homes to help capture “a great, raw moment between a family member and their connection thousands of miles away,” Rob Hyland, the producer of NBC’s primetime Olympics show, told THR.
Meanwhile, NBC’s news team has its own COVID precautions in place for covering this year’s event, including quarantines, rapid COVID-19 tests and phone tracking apps that allow for contact tracing.
But as Costas noted during his appearance, while the network will try to capture those reactions and get as much “ambient sound” as possible, “there’s only so much you can fake.”
“Every athlete draws some sort of adrenaline and emotion from an audience. That’s especially true at the Olympics, which are more about emotion than most sports events are,” he said.
The former Olympics coverage host said that with all the restrictions and precautions being taken around COVID-19, viewers should expect something more akin to the NBA bubble than any past Olympics. “Think of the NBA in the bubble in 2020 as opposed to what we saw last night with the Suns and the Bucks and like 65,000 people outside the arena, and the arena packed. The whole experience is different.”
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