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Bell Globemedia, Rogers, can make joint Olympic bid

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TORONTO - Bell Globemedia and Rogers Media are free to join forces and bid on the Canadian broadcast rights for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games after the Competition Bureau rejected a CBC complaint about a potential violation of the Competition Act on Friday.

The CBC lodged its complaint in August, alleging that an alliance between the two media giants would deny the public broadcaster access to a sports speciality channel, thereby hurting its chances of securing the TV rights from the International Olympic Committee.

But the Competition Bureau found no evidence that their joint bid would violate the abuse of dominance, mergers, and criminal provisions of the act, as the CBC had suggested.

"The bureau looks for a lessening of competition in these cases," bureau spokeswoman Purvi Radia said in an interview. "We didn't see that in this case."

Bureau officials held individual meetings with both sides and gathered information from third parties in reaching its decision.

"Of course, we are delighted that the Competition Bureau saw through CBC's baseless complaint," Paul Sparkes, Bell Globemedia's senior vice-president, corporate and public affairs, said in a release. "But we're deeply disappointed that this complaint by the CBC was ever launched in the first place and it demonstrates how far the CBC will go to stifle competition at the taxpayers' expense."

The complaint was the first salvo in what has already become a fierce fight for the rights, with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver being the plum Canada's broadcasters desperately want.

The first local Olympics since the 1998 Calgary Games are expected to bring its broadcaster a ratings bonanza, with the profits to match.

The CBC paid $165 million for the five Games between 2000 and 2008 but speculation has suggested the IOC could fetch up to $125 million US for the 2010 and 2012 rights.

"Based on the facts in the Competition Bureau's possession at this point, we understand their position," CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an interview. "Our only objective was that all broadcasters are assured the same opportunities in the bidding process."

IOC officials spent two days meeting with the CBC, Bell Globemedia, Rogers Communications, CanWest Global and The Score last week in Toronto to lay down ground rules for the bidding process.

While money will be the key to deciding a winner other factors, such as audience reach, will be taken into account, said Richard L. Carrion, the IOC executive board member in charge of the bidding process.

The CBC fears that if Rogers and Bell pool their resources, they could offer a level of coverage far beyond the scope of the other networks.

Bell Globemedia brings CTV, CTV Newsnet, TSN, RDS and OLN to the table while Rogers adds Sportsnet, plus an array of radio stations and magazines to the mix.

The networks have just under three months to prepare their bids before making their proposals Feb. 7-8 at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. A winner will be announced shortly thereafter.

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