‘I want them to feel the wrath of the viewers’: SBS out of touch, says axed commentator McEwen

SBS is facing a fierce backlash over its decision to dump former Australian cycling champion and broadcaster Robbie McEwen from its coverage.

McEwen won 12 stages of the Tour de France during his racing career and since his retirement in 2012 has become a popular caller and studio analyst.

The three-time green jersey champion on Sunday announced just hours after commentating from the Australian national road championships that he’d been cut from the network.

Robbie McEwen says he doesn’t want to be reinstated while SBS’s executive management remains the same.

“Great #roadnats22 National Champs road races. Congrats to the riders who gave us the spectacle. You’ll no longer hear me on comms on any @sbs cycling broadcast. They have axed me from the team to “deliver their broadcast differently”,” he wrote on Twitter.

McEwen said he was not provided with a valid reason for being dropped.

“I’m assuming someone is pushing their own agenda in axing me. I loved doing it & I’m really disappointed. Direct your opinions to @CyclingCentral @SBSSport & attn to the executive producer if you’d like to let them know how you feel about it,” he continued.

Criterium du Dauphine champion Richie Porte, who in 2020 became only the second Australian to stand on the podium at the Tour de France, finishing third, led a groundswell of international support for McEwen.

Porte, who will commence the last season of his career in Adelaide this week, expressed his disappointment on Instagram, calling it a “ridiculous decision”.

“Yes he’s a mate but @robbiemcewen is one of the best in the commentary game and one of the all time cycling greats. #themindboggles,” Porte wrote.

McEwen responded to Porte saying: “At least I got to commentate on what I reckon has been your finest moment #TdFpodium.”

SBS viewers were equally dismayed, with some declaring they’d switch to watching cycling streaming service GCN.

“Robbie’s was the only insight I was interested in hearing, especially when there was a sprint finish. Sorry @sbs_australia time to pay for @globalcyclingnetwork,” one said.

Robbie McEwen, pictured at the 2006 Tour de France, was one of the best sprinters of his era. Credit:AP

SBS said in a statement issued after McEwen’s announcement: “Robbie has been a valued member of our cycling commentary line-up for a number of events over the last six years, but we’re exploring a different approach in 2022.

“While his contract has come to an end, we thank Robbie for all that he’s brought to the role during his time with us.”

One source with knowledge of the situation believed budget was the issue but McEwen, speaking to The Age on Tuesday, said that didn’t add up.

“I don’t believe budget has anything to do with it because I would have taken a cut in the daily rate if that’s what was needed,” McEwen said. “But that was never in the discussion. And budget cuts wouldn’t see more people added to the broadcast team, which seems to be happening.

“I don’t expect SBS to tell the real story behind the change, and they’ll just weather the storm on social media and wait for it to blow over.”

It is not the first time SBS has made a contentious change to its cycling broadcast team, which has become a revolving door of both pundits and reporters in recent years, with its Tour de France line-up regularly altering.

McEwen’s exit comes after long-time presenter Michael Tomalaris, who hosted SBS’s Tour de France coverage, in October was reportedly forced to resign over what he later described as a “minor” code of conduct breach following 34 years at the company.

“I don’t want to be reinstated to work with those who made this decision, but I want them to feel the wrath of the people they are letting down – the viewers, who are also the taxpayers who fund SBS.”

McEwen said the reaction to his shock departure showed the executive management at SBS Sport was out of touch.

“The viewers, who SBS claim are the most important people when it comes to the broadcast, are unanimous. The executive is/are out of touch with the audience and have read the room completely wrong,” McEwen told The Age.

“I don’t want to be reinstated to work with those who made this decision, but I want them to feel the wrath of the people they are letting down – the viewers, who are also the taxpayers who fund SBS.”

A source said former cyclist turned media pundit Bridie O’Donnell was expected to increase her role in McEwen’s absence.

O’Donnell, since joining McEwen and Matthew Keenan in the commentary box, has called major international and domestic events including this year’s national road championships.

O’Donnell on Monday addressed public backlash she has apparently copped since the news of McEwen’s axing went viral.

“Being frustrated that a #TdF commentary team has changed in composition to not include someone you prefer is completely reasonable. Directing abuse, sending denigrating comments or loudly devaluing those who remain in the team is completely unacceptable. Be Better,” O’Donnell posted on Twitter.

McEwen on social media separated his former broadcast colleagues from SBS sports management.

“As much as I appreciate the groundswell of support over the last 24 hours re my axing from @SBSSport, it’s not about throwing shad on anyone who remains on the broadcast team. It’s not ok to abuse them online. Please stay focused on who is actually responsible for the decision,” he tweeted on Monday.

McEwen will form part of the Seven Network’s commentary team at the upcoming Santos Festival of Cycling in Adelaide.

Sophie Smith has previously worked as part of the SBS cycling broadcast team, including at the Tour de France.

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