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Mr. Brian L. Roberts
Chairman and CEO Comcast Corporation
1701 JFK Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103 USA
Mr. Thomas Bach
International Olympic Committee
Subject: Reversal of the NBC Swimming Schedule Change / Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games
Midnight Swimming Finals 10:00pm – 12:00am Midnight!
Dear Mr. Roberts,
Good morning. First, I would like to express my personal condolences to you and your family over the recent and tragic loss of your father and Comcast founder Mr. Ralph Roberts. He was an exceptional man and entrepreneur and left a tremendous legacy you can be proud of. I am sure under your leadership Comcast’s best days are still to come.
Mr. Roberts, I would like to bring to your attention an issue of critical importance in Olympic sports that is not only fundamental and non-negotiable to your own personal ethics and values competing as a top athlete in sports, but also jeopardizes Comcast’s values and reputation globally as well.
The issue negatively effects not only the Olympic swimmers and coaches, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC), all 205 national Olympic Committees (NOCs) of the member nations, FINA (the Fédération Internationale de Natation) with 208 national members and all teams and training groups attempting to adjust to the NBC schedule, hindering and diminishing their training and results as athletes up and through the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
This NBC time change emotionally corrodes the very essence, character and spirit of an athlete who wants to compete and accomplish their best times, against the best in the world, when the world is at their best.
Olympic Television Rights Holding Broadcasters
It also harms all Olympic television rights-holding broadcasters, adversely affecting European, South American, Asian and African audiences and television revenue.
Comcast’s business unit NBC has demanded that swimming finals in the Rio 2016 Olympics Games be drastically altered to new times, creating a global uproar among athletes, coaches and teams from the normal times that swimmers have trained all their lives for of usually 6:00pm – 8:00pm to 10:00pm!!! – 12:00am Midnight!!! And beyond…
That is insane. It’s not good for the athletes. It’s not good for the Olympics. It is morally and ethically wrong and harms the integrity of sport.
To accommodate the time change, the swimmers will have to somehow completely reset their internal biological clocks (not under laboratory conditions) to an artificial American time zone four (4) hours behind, going to bed extremely late in the morning and getting up just before noon. It’s never been done before for any major competition that experts are aware of.
To expect Olympic athletes to swim so late, compromising their performances, impairing their ability to set world and Olympic records for the pleasure of one television network and national audience harms the athletes and discredits the USA, NBC and Comcast.
What many believe is that the midnight finals move has now turned the athletes into nothing more than public performers and commercial servants.
Immediate reactions from swimmers and coaches in Europe and abroad learning of the new Rio 2016 midnight finals imposed by the American television network NBC range from instant emotional shock and anger to despondency and bitterness. Anger has turned to silence and deep seated resentment among U.S. competitors believing that NBC is hijacking the sport once again.
Prior to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, ignoring the protests of the athletes and coaches going into the Olympics, NBC had moved the finals times to morning and the preliminary times to evening, upending the sport for the sole benefit of the American audience sitting in time zones nine (9) to twelve (12) hours behind, across the international date line- in a previous day.
The negative fallout from that move is still simmering especially in Europe. How good was it for sports globally? If it had any merit, did anyone ever copy the NBC morning finals format afterwards? Did USA Swimming? No. No one has chosen to copy that format in any international meet ever since. It was a major scandal then, it is a major scandal now.
The optimal time globally recognized for an athletes’ peak human performance (PHP) to set national, world records and lifetime best athletic performances are in the time window from 4:00pm until 8:00pm with swimming finals usually being from 6:00pm – 8:00pm or many times beginning an hour earlier, starting at 5:00pm going to 7:00pm or 7:30pm. That is the most crucial and optimal time window when athletes, whether swimmers or track and field athletes competing are tapered, psychologically ready and physically prepared to set world records and give life time best performances.
Preliminaries are internationally recognized to be held between 9:00am or 10:00am to 12:00pm noon giving the athletes time to rest and recover during the afternoon, usually after a number of events in the morning. That is what the athletes know and have trained all their lives for. Now preliminaries will not be held as anticipated at the globally respected sport norms of 9:00am or 10:00am – 12:00 noon, but will be moved to 1:00pm – 3:00pm in the afternoon at a time when athletes are usually resting and asleep in preparation for early evening finals.
If anyone believes this change is good for sports, let them demonstrate their integrity. In swimming you train the way you swim and you swim the way you train. NBC has the television rights to the 2016 U.S. Olympic swimming trials, let them force the U.S. Olympic Trials (or U.S: Nationals or any other country’s nationals) to be held in the same prelim and 10:00pm – 12:00am midnight finals format over eight (8) days as they are doing with the Rio 2016 Olympics. They won’t do it. Why? The outrage and anger would be volcanic.
Whenever you upend the sport and set preliminary and finals times that are contrary to the best interest of the athletes, that undeniably harms them first emotionally/psychologically, then with the change, it degrades them physically and places at risk their ability to achieve life time best performances and set records. They know they’re disadvantaged. It is not what they’ve prepared for and what experts and team doctors have told them all their lives. Consequently, you have irreparably harmed the Olympic athletes on a number of levels.
Preeminent U.S. national head coach Mark Schubert, USA, wrote, “I agree with you regarding this situation. I don’t think it is good for anyone, especially for the Europeans.”
Talented German national head coach, Henning Lambertz, GER, saw the ramifications for his team instantly when learning of the NBC midnight finals, stating “It’s unfair! Money rules the world. Let me know if I can help to do something against these times. I will!”
Jon Rudd, GBR, head coach to 15-year-old London Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, Rūta Meilutytė, LTU, joined the chorus in protest over the NBC midnight finals plans and stated when speaking to Craig Lord, Swimvortex.com, “It’s outrageous!!! The best way to describe it is that it is disrespectful to the athletes, disrespectful to the sport and what the Olympics means.”
And Jacco Verhaeren, NED, and Australian national head swimming coach, in the Australian ABC News interview, Sunday, December 7, 2014 criticized the decision to hold midnight finals in Rio calling it a “lack of respect” not only for the athletes and the sport, but for the Brazilian hosts as well.
Verhaeren went on to say, “We are not swimming for America. We are swimming for the world. Clearly the choice is not made for performance reasons. There is only one reason and that is television and money and only American television and money and that to me is not really fair.”
What should happen?
In each individual sport, the sport prelims and finals times should be sacrosanct, held at globally recognized sport norms to protect the ability of the athletes to achieve lifetime best performances and to set world and Olympic records.
When the Olympics are awarded to a city such as Rio de Janeiro, that city is the Host City for the Olympic Games. And that Host City’s time zone in that country should be the governing time zone for the Olympic Games. Not the U.S. Olympic Committee’s time zone. Not USA Swimming’s home time zone and not the top California swim club’s time zone four (4) hours behind in a completely different country set by their own national television network. The United States was not awarded the Olympic Games.
When the host city’s time zone like Rio de Janeiro’s is the governing time zone for the Olympic Games and sport norms for prelims and finals are respected then it is 100% fair for everyone.
What they haven’t told the public or athletes…
What is now emerging after carefully studying the four hour preliminary and finals time shift are grossly unfair embedded advantages unseen up until now. The NBC midnight finals precisely favors U.S. swimmers not harming them at all (or the least) and completely disadvantages their competitors the most giving U.S. swimmers an unfair, overwhelming and unprecedented advantage by their own television network.
The athletes are not competing under the same conditions.
This is the way it will work. European athletes will first leave their home time zone and move into a training camp let’s say with only one time zone change. Then they will arrive in Rio de Janeiro in another time zone with about four, five or six hours difference to get acclimatized. They will arrive two or more weeks in advance before the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games to adjust to the Rio time zone which should be the Olympic time zone, but, it’s not.
But, then after they overcome jet lag and adjust to the Rio de Janeiro time zone, they then will have to kill that and readjust their internal biological clocks again at some point (nobody knows how and when to do it) going to bed four hours later at maybe 2:00am, 3:00am or 4:00am and getting up around noon, for the American time zone four hours behind in order to swim finals from 10:00pm – 12:00am midnight.
It totally deprives all American competitors of sleep and wipes them out. No one will be happy about it once they learn that they’re forced to change time zones arriving in Rio a minimum of two (without a training camp) or three times before the Games then change, readjust and hold before the start of competition to the artificial American time zone, while the Americans… don’t have to do it at all.
Why? They just jet in to the Olympic Village and go. They have no time zone change to make. They are already perfectly optimized and synced for the Rio midnight finals time zone coming from the U.S. Mountain Time Zone home of the USOC and USA Swimming in Colorado Springs and the Pacific Time Zone home also to their top athletes and swim clubs.
The first undisclosed U.S. embedded advantage
What this means is the 10:00pm – 12:00am finals time in Rio is perfectly ideal for the Americans to swim personal bests and set world records in. Why? Because for them it’s really only 6:00pm to 8:00pm, the optimal time (zone) for peak human performance in the USA.
The midnight finals time shift will cause all of the American competitors sleep deprivation from making mandatory multiple time zone changes over the weeks in Rio and trying to hold to an artificial American time zone change they can’t maintain.
Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of the U.S. Olympic Committee and their U.S. Olympic Training Center is also the home of USA Swimming and along with the entire west coast of California, they now are in the perfect time zone window for peak human performance to set world records with late night finals in Rio. (See: USA Time Zone Map).
The late 10:00pm starting time for finals in Rio will feel like 6:00pm for California swimmers and only 7:00pm for USA Swimming, home of their U.S. national team and pool in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
It’s just perfect.
None of the American’s major competitors share the same time zone as the 6:00pm/10:00pm time window of the American “prime time” time zone change made by NBC.
Absolutely none. It completely favors the U.S. team.
The second undisclosed U.S. embedded advantage
And the prelims? The most ideal time for prelims globally is 9:00am or 10:00am until 12:00pm noon. So with a 1:00pm start time, prelims are now scheduled to last until 3:00pm. That set up comes with another embedded advantage for the U.S. team.
A 1:00pm start time will feel like a favorable 9:00am start to the California swimmers and a 10:00am start time for the home pool of USA Swimming and their national team. That is totally ideal for them. They will be able to move more athletes up into the semi-finals more easily than anyone else. Which means a chance for more medals for the USA.
US swimmers will not have to adapt to any time zone change at all going into Rio if they have done the time zone math correctly, while their European, Asian and Australian competitors are looking at a minimum of two or three time zone changes and the necessity of holding an artificial time zone change they can’t maintain in the Rio Olympic Village.
Doping has a far less effect on an athlete being able to win than imposing a full three weeks of sleep deprivation and exhaustion caused by multiple time zone changes has upon American opponents causing them to lose.
You see, it’s reverse engineering. It is emerging as something possibly worse than the current Russian doping scandal. Why? Russia and their athletes are only from one country. If only one athlete makes the final from that country, you can only dope one person in an event to have an advantage over the rest of the field.
However, now in a globally sweeping demand for changing Rio finals times from 6:00pm to starting at 10:00pm – 12:00am midnight along with prelims at 1:00pm, that disadvantages all of the American opponents with multiple time zone changes, sleep deprivation and exhaustion inadvertently caused by the American television network for commercial purposes, highlighting and benefiting their own American swimmers at the expense of all of their Olympic competitors hindering their record-setting performance ability and health. It’s reverse engineering. What is better? Making one “faster” or making everyone else “slower?”
The sleep deprivation, the emotional roller-coaster, agitation, exhaustion and physical lethargy will accumulate and build-up harming the athletes and be progressively more damaging to their performances and their emotional and physical health as the week progresses.
It’s worse than cheating. It’s grossly unfair and physically and mentally harmful impairing and degrading the performances of American opponents.
No Justice for the Athletes
The nature and characteristic of this issue crystalized when it came to a head in the global press by the exchange of alarming comments made by John Coates, AUS, IOC Executive Board Vice President and Australian National Olympic Committee President about the Rio 2016 midnight finals swimming schedule after Australian national swimming coach Jacco Verhaeren, NED voiced his concerns attempting to protect the athletes in his statements mentioned earlier.
In Monaco before the start of an IOC meeting, the AOC President John Coates has said in essence “It is time for Australia to accept late-night swimming finals at Rio Olympic Games and move on,” ABC News, December 07, 2014 and that “there was no point in continuing to attempt to change the IOC’s mind.” ”…It’s time to move on.”
The message is 100% clear. Placing it in context and understanding the tone of how it was delivered, it sends a chilling message to all athletes and coaches, closing off any and all avenues to amend the injustice and killing any hope to rectify wrongs.
It should also be noted, along with sitting on the IOC Executive Board, Mr. Coates is also IOC Chairman of the powerful IOC Sport and Law Commission and IOC Judicial Commission now merged into one, along with simultaneously being President of the International Court of Arbitration and Sport (CAS).
You see they need to tip the scales of justice in their favor to be able to guarantee the outcome before anything is even discussed regarding the harm or abuse of athletes.
It’s no surprise how they treat athletes. Regarding the Beijing 2008 morning finals over 70 Olympic swimmers from nearly as many nations tried to stop it, led by Dutch great, triple Olympic gold, double silver and double bronze medal winner, Pieter van den Hoogenband, NED. Van Den Hoogenband met privately for over an hour leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games with IOC President Jacques Rogge, but the effort was in vain. Rogge had already made up his mind.
It should also be noted that dogs and animals in Hollywood films have more rights and clauses protecting their lives and performances than Olympic athletes do at the Olympic Games. Any of your attorneys can confirm that.
And minors? There are also child labor laws to consider. Many swimmers are 14, 15, 16, and 17-years- old. Would Comcast force minors to work 10:00pm – 12:00am midnight without pay in a foreign country? If you would not force or permit young minors to work from 10:00pm – 12:00am for Comcast without pay, then why will you permit one of your business units to do it to young Olympic athletes when it is not in their best interests and against their will at 10:00pm? 11:00pm? 12:00am midnight? Impairing and degrading their lifetime of training and Olympic performances?
It is hard to believe that anyone can overlook this fact and the negative effects it will have on young athletes preparing to go into Rio 2016. The NOC (National Olympic Committee) team doctors on the European sport federation medical commissions know and understand these points. Many have already expressed that they are against midnight finals.
Take bold decisive action
It is easy to see how a network like NBC can take advantage of the athletes and system upending the sport with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games morning finals and now with the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games midnight finals when FINA (along with FIVB, volleyball) is considered one of the worst international sport federations in sports governance.
At the recent U.S. Senate hearings in Washington D.C. regarding the corruption and arrests in FIFA of their executives, the idea of replacing FIFA with a new global organization was proposed and discussed at the Senate hearings.
However, you should also know that due to the lack of transparency, corruption and the death of top world-class, open water swimmer, Fran Crippen, USA, the same idea to replace FINA with a new organization has been championed by John Leonard, President, American Swim Coaches Association and hundreds of others earlier this year.
There is nothing the IOC, FINA or anyone else could ever do or say that could justify the Rio midnight swimming finals compromising the performances of Team USA’s opponents with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, while simultaneously granting undeniable, unfair embedded advantages to U.S. swimmers by its own television network NBC for $7.3 billion USD.
Impairing the performances of American opponents and the integrity of sports and competition is not for sale at any price. We won’t stand for it. We won’t permit it.
As an athlete yourself Mr. Roberts and on behalf of the athletes and coaches around the world, I am asking that you do what is right and fair for everyone- take immediate and swift action and reverse the NBC Rio 2016 midnight swimming finals and revert them to globally respected sport norms of 6.00pm – 8:00pm for finals with prelims from 10:00am – 12:00pm noon effective immediately.
And that you will let it be known unequivocally that we will not knowingly or unknowingly take any unfair advantage of our opponents or compromise their performances in any way, shape or form and we will refrain from even the appearance of any such conduct. It is not up for debate. It is not open for discussion.
Secondly, Mr. Roberts, I am asking for you to lead. To make it a priority to kick start and strengthen the IOC Ethics Commission and to set up an independent third-party committee to review any schedule changes in all Olympic sports with veto power, so problems like this never happen again.
If it’s not about sport excellence, creating the best environment and venues for optimal peak human performance and placing the welfare of the athletes first- then it’s not Olympic. Period.
I respectfully request your response within 48 hours. Please feel free to reach me anytime 24/7/365 to meet and discuss this issue. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
On behalf of the athletes and coaches, we thank you for your time and consideration Mr. Roberts.
We wish you and your team every success at Comcast and in the years to come. We thank you for standing with us to uphold fairness, to undo injustice, to strengthen sport ethics and to protect the integrity of sport.
As always- all the best.
Steven V. Selthoffer
Athletes V Alliance
* We would like to thank the athletes and coaches, the timing experts, neurologists, chrono-biologists, doctors and Olympic NOC and FINA members around the world who have helped contribute to this letter.