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Your guide to filming the Olympics

The Olympic Games are widely considered to be one of the greatest sporting events in the world, with over 200 nations taking part in the summer and winter competitions, which are held every four years. As a journalist or filmmaker, how do you get access?

Inspired by the ancient Olympic Games, the modern competition was founded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, and they first began to be broadcast on television during the 1930s.

Since then, the Olympic Games have been transformed into an international media event, dominating news and television coverage around the world.  The competitions have become big business for the International Olympic Committee, international broadcasters and filmmakers alike, and this means that without official permission, you won’t be even able to film within the stadium, let alone get anywhere near the sporting action.  

Filming at the Games is no simple feat – any camera crew will need to gain press accreditation and the media organisation you work for may also need to negotiate for rights in order to broadcast any footage of the athletes.

Each Olympic Games has slightly differing procedures and rules, but I have selected a number of practical examples from the most recent Games, London 2012. So read on to find out about the important information you’ll need to work your way towards filming at the Olympics.


Before we even get into the process of media accreditation and accessing broadcast rights, it’s useful to quickly establish who controls the broadcasting rights for the Olympic Games, and which organisations are responsible for filming sporting content.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the sole owner of the global broadcast rights for the Olympic Games.

As mentioned above, the sale of broadcast rights has become increasingly lucrative for the IOC as the Games have grown in scope and popularity over the years. For instance, the media rights for 2010 Winter and 2012 Summer Games generated $3.91 billion.

In 2001, in order to ensure broadcasting continuity and to help ease the pressures of broadcast operations, the IOC set up its own production company, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), to operate as the permanent host broadcaster, responsible for filming and broadcasting all Olympic events and to supply content to international rights holders.

However, the OBS will also arrange contracts for particular sports to be filmed and broadcast by established media outlets with specific expertise in that area. For instance, the BBC provided coverage for sports such as tennis and football during the London 2012 games because of its experience in that field.

Negotiating for Broadcast Rights:

With broadcast sales bringing in such big money, the IOC strictly controls which media organisations can access Olympics content through the negotiation of rights agreements.

The IOC’s perogative in selecting broadcasters to show Olympic content in their respective countries is to ensure that over-the-air television coverage of the Games is delivered to as broad a worldwide audience as possible.

The IOC will therefore select the media organisation which can offer to facilitate most live coverage of Olympic events. In the vast majority of cases, only one national media organisation for each territory is selected to be the official broadcaster for television, radio and digital rights through a complex tender process.

The IOC also takes into account established relationships when selecting which organisations will be given official broadcast rights. For example, the BBC (UK) and NBC (USA) have been selected as broadcast rights holders for many years – the BBC has been showing the Olympics since 1960 and NBC since the 1970s. 

Non-rights holding television and radio broadcasting organisations (ENR):

For those media organisations that are not selected to be official Olympic broadcast rights holders, and fall under the category of “Non-rights holding television and radio broadcasting organisations”, or “ENR”, there are strict restrictions on the amount of Olympic coverage that can be used in order to protect the exclusive rights of broadcast rights holders.

However, the IOC also states on its website that it is required to work to ensure

“the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games” and therefore non-rights holding broadcasters can still receive press accreditation and may also have limited access to Olympic Material. 

For example, during London 2012 the BBC’s commercial rivals were allowed to screen six minutes of Olympic coverage a day, and this was limited to within news programming.

Press Accreditation process:

Only those who apply for official press accreditation will be able to enter Olympic sites freely and make use of many of the extensive facilities Games organisers make available for media personnel.

The accreditation process for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games usually begins around two years before the competition, for example the accreditation process for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games closed in September 2012. Therefore, if you do not work for a rights –holding broadcaster, you need to be thinking well in advance if you do want to film or cover the Olympics in some official capacity.

The IOC grants non-rights-holding accreditation to a limited number of radio and television organisations who do not own rights to broadcast the Olympic Games. This accreditation category gives restricted access (all competition venues, without equipment, and access to the Main Press Centre with equipment) as defined in the IOC News Access Rules.

There is a totally separate procedure for print, photographic and online media accreditation, which falls under the care of each country’s National Olympic Committee.

Each National Olympic Committee has a limited number of written and photographic accreditation quotas, and each quota is established by the IOC Press Commission Working Group – the total quotas for the Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London Games were 5,600 press members.

Competition for full press accreditation is fierce – during the London Olympics Britain’s National Olympic Committee, The British Olympic Association, received more than 3000 requests when it only had 500 accreditations available.

However, there are other options available for media who do not receive official accreditation for either the IOC or their respective National Olympic Committee. Non-accredited media may not be able to freely access Olympic venues, but in many instances the host nation will work to provide separate media facilities to allow journalists, photographers and camera crews to cover the action from the Games.

For example, during London 2012 organisers established the London Media Centre based close to Horse Guards Parade, which acted as a hub for the 10,000 estimated media representatives who missed out on official accreditation.

The London Media Centre provided facilities such as conference rooms, dining areas, toilets, and registered broadcast media could also access edit suites, which could be rented out. The centre also ran a service to provide media with information for wider stories about the London 2012 Olympic Games, such as tourism, economics and technology.

Taking cameras into Olympic Venues without accreditation or registration

The policy surrounding bringing cameras and recording equipment into Olympic venues differs according to the rules established by the host organisers. However, it goes without saying that without official accreditation, any footage you may film should only be for private use and broadcasting it without the necessary rights could cause you legal problems down the road.

During London 2012 there were restrictions on the size of camera which could be brought into any Olympic venue. The London 2012 website stated the following in its official published list of Prohibited and Restricted Items:

“Large photographic and broadcast equipment over 30cm in length, including tripods and monopods [are prohibited]. You cannot use photographic or broadcast equipment for commercial purposes unless you hold media accreditation.”


Have you got any experience with filming at events such as the Olympics? Then please do share your thoughts and experiences with us through the comment section below of via our facebook page.

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