Fans fuming after SBS abruptly cuts beloved cycling figure

·5-min read
Longtime SBS commentator Mike Tomalaris had been a mainstay of the network's widely praised Tour de France coverage.
Longtime SBS commentator Mike Tomalaris has been let go by SBS, leaving cycling fans disappointed. Picture: Instagram

In a week in which the story behind Lisa Wilkinson's departure from the Today show and her fallout with co-star Karl Stefanovic was splashed across the front pages of Australian newspapers, mystery still surrounds the exit of a respected media figure who preferred to do his work well away from the spotlight.

Mike Tomalaris spent more than 30 years at SBS, starting out as Les Murray's sidekick on the station's National Soccer League coverage.

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He went on to present on major international football tournaments before emerging as a leading authority on the Tour de France, helping introduce the event to a generation of Australians who wouldn't have known a Malvern Star from a Merida.

Admitting he knew little about the sport or the race when he started out in 1996, Tomalaris quickly became infatuated with the La Grande Boucle.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald in a recent interview: "It's chess on wheels, it's a love story, it's a tragedy, it's beautiful, it’s got everything.

"There's nothing quite like it in world sport."

Tomalaris was an informative, knowledgeable, inquisitive and unobtrusive commentator/presenter.

He knew the riders and scenery were the stars and was comfortable acting as the conduit to the "couch peloton" back in Australia.

So why did SBS ruthlessly cut a popular, professional and long-serving member of its team out of the blue?

We asked and received a bland 23-word statement from a station spokesperson.

"Mike Tomalaris is moving on from SBS after more than 30 years with the network. We wish him well for his next chapter," it read.

There was an internal memo circulated to SBS staff which simply confirmed the departure, coldly listing Tomalaris's on-screen appearances with no room for emotion.

It's clear this decision was not mutually agreed.

Disappointment over abrupt SBS departure of Mike Tomalaris

Media colleagues were stunned by the abrupt and brutal nature of the decision and left searching for reasons and answers.

None have been forthcoming and Tomalaris has maintained his silence apart from tweeting a saying about loyalty accompanied by the message: "Making a difference to people's lives is all that matters to me."

It hints of behind-the-scenes politics followed by a swift knifing.

In lieu of an explanation, speculation and rumours have filled the void.

The Australian cycling community is livid – and threatening a revolt against SBS.

"Mike has done more for mainstream international coverage of the sport here in Australia that pretty well anyone else," Bicycling Australia editor Nat Bromhead told Yahoo Australia.

"His passion, drive, enthusiasm and love for cycling is infectious - whether speaking to tens of thousands on air, or to one or two other riders on the street, he remains an absolute icon of the sport.

"This comes at a time when SBS are under increasing pressure on a number of fronts. First their current hosts still haven’t come anywhere near matching the mainstream acceptance of their predecessors and, secondly, the way fans are now watching their sport.

"Global Cycling Network’s coverage is rapidly gaining popularity. VPNs allow easy access to more European coverage, and there are some phenomenally talented comperes, hosts and post-race analysis teams online.

"Tomalaris remains at the top of his game, the audience love him, and like Phil Liggett, he still has an enormous amount to offer the sport."

SBS obviously saw it differently.

They owe it to their audience to tell us the full story.

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