Richard Carapaz of Ecuador won the men's cycling road race

Credit: AP

Scaled-down BBC coverage of the Olympics has left viewers outraged within hours of the first day of full events in Tokyo.

The British broadcast arrangement is part of a sub-licensing coverage to American digital giant Discovery ahead of the digital giant becoming the primary rights holder in 2022.

Viewers complained in their droves online that gymnastics, rowing and tennis were being squeezed out, with the corporation only screening two live events at a time.

BBC One and the red button prioritised the road race on Saturday, with tennis fans expressing concerns that they may be waiting until Thursday for their sport to be shown.

Rowing featured early on, but the chairman of British Rowing suggested his sport was not getting enough air time as the day progressed. "Am I being really thick that I can’t find rowing anywhere since the BBC moved to this road cycling," Mark Davies, the son of commentator Barry, tweeted. "I’ve spent the last 25 minutes looking on every coloured button and web page". 

Sir Matthew Pinsent, the four-time gold medalist, also responded to complaints by tweeting: "Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the channel can’t show more than two things at once. It’s a contractual thing with Discovery. Rowing will get pushed aside often."

Dan Walker, who anchored the coverage, also responded to complaints online. "Thanks for watching this morning," he wrote. "I know we’ve got used to being able to see every sport – on various streams – at the Olympics but, this time, the BBC is only allowed to show two sports at the same time. It is an issue about TV rights and not an editorial choice."

Chris Boardman and Hazel Irvine covered the road race for the BBC

Credit: BBC

BBC lost the rights in 2015 after the IOC created a pan-European rights package, allowing Discovery to table a £920million offer which blew the corporation out of the water. 

"As announced in February 2017, the BBC’s coverage of the Olympic games has changed," a BBC spokesperson told Telegraph Sport. The corporation said it "will continue to bring extensive coverage from the Games including all the must see moments".  

However, the spokesperson added: "The BBC is no longer able to offer live streams of every sport during the Olympics due to the terms of the licensing arrangements laid down by the rights-holder (Discovery)."

Corporation executives will be concerned by the prospect of comparisons being drawn with digital offerings from Eurosport and Discovery. A source close to the American rights-holder had told The Telegraph prior to the Games that they were confident wall-to-wall offering on Discovery+ could start tempting traditional BBC viewers over. After these Olympics, the BBC, which was contacted for comment, will no longer be a direct rights-holder with the IOC as it was outbid during the last sell off for the rights from 2022.

On Saturday, below a Team GB tweet about the artistic men’s gymnastics qualification beginning with the likes of Max Whitlock, a host of fans complained that it was "so sad we can’t watch!" "Absolutely disgusted with the BBC coverage…they are showing cycling and rowing everywhere," wrote one. Another added: "Why is there now double cycling on the BBC instead of this?" 

In the decade-and-a-half since Grandstand was axed,  Olympic athletes have complained of never finding it tougher to get a slice of the TV riches gorged on predominantly by football. Prior to the pandemic, British Olympics chiefs toyed with a host of innovative solutions. 

UK Sport and the British Olympic and Paralympic Association secured 2,600 hours of content across 26 sports so far for a new in-house over-the-top (OTT) broadcast platform. James Begley, chief executive of sports branding experts Pickstar, previously said marginalised Olympic sports will benefit as the model is modernised.  

"The fragmentation of media markets, combined with the growing importance and influence of player power, which we’ve seen recently, is fuelling richer competition for rights and access," he said.