While the “stick to sports” crowd remains loud, it’s impossible to ignore geopolitical issues when hosting the Olympics, and NBC’s Mike Tirico doesn’t intend to.
Tirico joined the latest episode of The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast and during the interview, the NBC announcer was asked about the need to veer away from sports at times when hosting the Olympics.
“If it rises to the level that it impacts your understanding of the Games, then we talk about it. You have to talk about it,” Tirico said, noting that he was a political science major and a self-described “politics junkie.”
When the 2022 Winter Olympics took place in Beijing, China was facing global scrutiny for its alleged human rights violations and NBC was essentially accused of helping the country sportswash those abuses by spotlighting the host city. But when the Games began, Tirico didn’t just celebrate the host city and country, he welcomed viewers by citing concerns around China’s genocide against the Uyghurs.
“There were things that had to be said when we were in China and we said them, right out of the gate,” Tirico recalled. “Our first segment of our first broadcast from Beijing while we were on the ground there was all about the Uyghur population – not all about, but we addressed it right on – the Uyghur population, the Muslim issue and the treatment of the Uyghurs in China.”
Tirico was in Beijing when he noted the “US government’s declaration that the Chinese Communist Party is guilty of committing genocide on the Uyghur Muslim population in Western Xinjiang region.” And his comments were not made without fear of retribution from the Chinese government.
“In being honest, I have to say, I was concerned about if my COVID test was going to come back surprisingly positive all of a sudden after our first night in China and we made our comments about the treatment of the Uyghurs over there,” Tirico told Marchand and Ourand.
Tirico’s COVID test did not come back positive and he continued to host the Olympics, mostly from NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut after being in Beijing for the start of the Games.
After addressing the issue of China’s human rights violations, Tirico said he spoke with his predecessor as host of the Olympics at NBC, Bob Costas. According to Tirico, Costas, who addressed tensions between China and the United States while hosting the 1996 Olympics, complimented the way the NBC team addressed the human rights concerns in 2022.
“Bob carried the flag for the journalistic part of this job. And are we journalists all the time? Not really, but we do have to be at key moments,” Tirico continued. “Your journalistic ethics have to show up during a broadcast, while you’re calling a game, and certainly in situations where politics are part of sports. And as much as we love the Olympics, politics will always be a part of the Olympic Games.”