Gold-medal-winning Australian athletes have joined the chorus panning the controversial Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, calling it “disappointing”, “confusing” and even “heartbreaking”.
The decision to leave the athletes out of the broadcast earned the ire of fans, politicians and even Channel Seven’s on-air hosts, sparking an early morning apology from Games boss Peter Beattie.
Swim king Mitch Larkin, suitcase bulging with five gold medals from the Gold Coast Games, said he had encouraged other athletes to stick around for an event that was usually “pretty special”.
“Walking out last night we were a little bit disappointed, a little bit confused,” he said.
“But you know, it is what it is and they tried something different and unfortunately it didn’t pay off.”
Wheelchair racing gold medallist Kurt Fearnley carried the flag for the Aussies on Sunday night, after finishing his career with a gold medal in the marathon, but audiences at home didn’t see him lead the team out.
Taking a break from signing autographs for fans on the beach, 200-metre backstroke gold medallist Emily Seebohm said the ceremony ranked as the worst of her three Commonwealth Games and three Olympic campaigns.
“The athletes didn’t really know what was happening. No one really communicated anything,” she said.
“I didn’t see Kurt at all, which is really sad because you think as the flagbearer you get this huge honour to do such an important role and it seemed like no one really congratulated him on his role of being a para-athlete and being one of the best in the world.”
She noted the closing night was particularly important for swimmers because heavy first-week programs meant they usually skipped the opening ceremony.
“It’s a little bit heartbreaking because that was our only chance at doing that,” she said.
Speaking on SEN 116 Radio on Monday afternoon, Fearnley was more forgiving and said the issue needed to be put into perspective.
“Yes, they did get it wrong … (but) right now, we have just finished the best and most inclusive games we have ever had, and it’s the best two weeks of my life.
“Let’s just move on. Let’s just reflect, and remember the Games for the absolute success that it was.”
‘We stuffed up’: Games boss
Peter Beattie, the chairman of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, admitted the organisers had “stuffed up” the closing ceremony.
“Did we stuff it up? Yes. Should [athletes] have been a part of the actual ceremony that was broadcast? Of course. We got it wrong. I can’t be more honest about it than that,” Mr Beattie said on Sunrise.
NEP Host Broadcast was in charge of television coverage of the Commonwealth Games. Its website says the company was responsible for “handling incoming video and audio from the venues and distributing it to broadcast rights-holders’ home countries”.
However, Mr Beattie would not apportion any blame to NEP Host Broadcast, saying the fault lay with him.
“I am chairman of the organising committee, and the buck stops with us. I am not interested in blaming anyone else,” he said.
“People are angry that athletes weren’t part of the actual ceremony that was broadcast on Seven.
“We stuffed it up and I apologise.”
Performers ‘sad’ about closing ceremony controversy
The part of Sunday night’s closing ceremony that was broadcast saw a star-studded line-up that included the likes of The Veronicas, Dami Im, Guy Sebastian, Amy Shark and Anthony Callea.
Artists who performed at last night’s ceremony have been reluctant to address widespread criticism because they don’t want to weigh into the “politics” of the highly-orchestrated event.
“I only focused on my performance,” one artist who performed at the closing ceremony said. “I loved the night.”
Performer Ricki-Lee Coulter called the controversy “a little bit sad”, and said the vibe in the stadium was “amazing”.
“I think it’s a real shame, ’cause the show was actually great,” she said on Gold Coast’s Sea FM on Monday morning.
“I know it wasn’t shown on air, but there were so many athletes in there: 30,000 people were singing Horses and You’re The Voice. It was such an awesome feeling.”
She said she noticed a number of athletes started leaving the stadium once “the formalities started happening.
“I’m sad that the entertainment and the show that was put together got lost in everything that happened with the broadcast and the athletes.”
An estimated 1.58 million people tuned into Seven’s broadcast of the closing ceremony, down from the mammoth 2.7 million who tuned in for the opening event.
On Monday morning, federal Minister for Sport Bridget McKenzie congratulated Australia’s athletes on snapping up 198 medals at this year’s games, including 80 gold.
“Mitch Larkin’s efforts in the pool will go down in the history books. Winning five golds in five events, he has solidified his position as one of our nation’s best.”