Talking tennis a BBC smash

Another week when we could only be inspired by the breadth of vision shown by sporting luminaries in the constant quest for improvement.

Talking tennis a BBC smash

As usual, the most ambitious of them all, our old friend Sepp, was at the forefront, using the time he spared avoiding the latter stages of a Fifa tournament to counsel his peers at the head of other powerful organisations.

“I am a religious person and pray. I believe I’ll go to Heaven one day. But there is no Hell. I disagree with the Pope on that.”

The Pope has yet to reveal details of any compensation package for the elimination of Hell, without even the consolation of a play-off with the fifth-placed CONMEBOL side.

But Fifa business should progress more seamlessly now it’s clear some among their number won’t pay the price in this life or the next.

We also heard from the good people who put discreet batteries and motors into the framework of bicycles, to hurry things along in the ascent of mountains.

Not aimed at pro racers, the inventor assured us, though he did tell The Daily Telegraph that he had already been approached by one rider manager “asking if it could be incorporated into his client’s bike”.

Knowing, as we do, the insatiable hunger for advancement in this proud arena, we can already look forward to the day when a great champion breaks down on Oprah and assures us all the rest of them were on motorbikes too.

At the BBC, meanwhile, they are content with small surgical tweaks as they seek to better leverage their sporting properties, going forward. To that end, ‘Today at Wimbledon’ was rebranded this week as ‘Wimbledon 2day’, a move that has caused some consternation across the water.

At a time when the Beeb might have lost the Olympics, it seemed an odd move to mess with one of the few other things still under their care that people were happy enough with. But change works in mysterious ways at boardroom level. So we can only guess that the twitterfication of the programme title will synergise multi-platform initiatives and accelerate new demographic buy-in. And that’s all we need to know.

But it wasn’t only the title that was bothering complainants. In most cases, a greater concern with the show was the noticeable lack of tennis, largely replaced by what they would probably call, at boardroom level, “tennis content”.

This has encompassed home video footage of toddlers wielding racquets; tweets from Alice from Nottingham, hoping Andy can go all the way; japes about his balls from John McEnroe; collections of amusing clips from the day’s action that would be unlikely to amuse even a centre court crowd, comedy’s softest ride. And, naturally, a little bit of banter with the audience, who are hanging gloomily on set like Transfer Deadline Day loiterers stripped of their dildos. That Clare Balding, not banter’s first lady, is in charge of the banter, doesn’t help.

In fairness, it is possible to see two sides of this raging debate. Or #2sides, as Rio Ferdinand and BBC execs would have it.

If it is really tennis people want to see during Wimbledon, there are, after all, hundreds of hours of action, from 14 courts, live on the BBC every day. And even the tennis lover who has to do an honest day’s work has never had more facilities to record all this tennis, and watch it banter-free.

It is a little suspicious too, that the configuration of BBC’s highlights show probably generated as much discussion as the tennis itself last week, which might very well back the Beeb’s contention that people prefer the idea of the tennis, and chatting about the tennis, than actually looking at Slobodon Gruntov duke it out with Mikhail Yelpovic in another gruelling five-setter.

But we have to beware of this kind of thinking too. There are some clues as to where this kind of thinking takes you in the new book of former BBC Sport exec Roger Mosey.

Discussing the corporation’s attitude to horse racing, for example, Mosey pointed out that it had been very anxious to regain Cheltenham, with its “compellingly successful mix of the Queen Mother with thousands of Irish visitors and lakes of Guinness.”

However, as Mosey put it, “we weren’t bothered about the lesser days — what I would sometimes call the ‘2.50 at Wincanton’.”

Mosey admitted it soured relations with the horse racing crowd, this correct impression that the Beeb hadn’t the slightest interest in the actual racing.

There was another clue as to the Beeb’s attitude to sport in Mosey’s first key move in the plan to “make the most of events like the World Cup and the Olympics”.

“We showed what we meant with a Top Gear special from the Winter Olympics in which the lads drove a Mini off a ski-jump.”

On an everyday basis, this distrust of the actual sport is the kind of thinking that insists viewers wouldn’t be able to tolerate an hour of football highlights without a “package” from a roving “colour” reporter like Kevin Day or “Clem”. It also probably explains Robbie Savage.

And it must explain this obsession with viewers’ tweets, across much of BBC’s programming. Always fretting they will lose Joe Soap, if he is left to watch the blessed sport.

The thing is, as Meath goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke found out last week, when you go searching Twitter on matchdays, you don’t always find the kind of things you want to see, or the kind of things the BBC can show you.

It is why people go on Twitter on matchday, to see a little bit more than Alice from Nottingham hoping Andy can go all the way. And at the same time, they might put the telly on to look at the match.

Has the race to the bottom got a finish line?

Under the weight of uproar, there were signs towards the end of the week that the Beeb had relented, reined in the banter on Wimbledon 2day and promised the show “would evolve” — perhaps back into showing tennis — over the second week’s play.

But there may be nobody capable of reining in the crown princes of banter — that betting company who want you to print their name over and over amid some outraged fuming.

Certainly the weight of uproar only encourages them.

Having previously dabbled profitably in the areas of domestic abuse, murder and poking fun at disability, this week our national heroes pushed back another boundary to incorporate the desperate plights and conditions of fleeing migrants into a punchline.

Presumably, at boardroom level, the betting company has identified how this leverages buy-in among some new demographic, and they might be able to do the state and its security services great assistance by revealing what this demographic is.

In the meantime, we can only speculate whether this race to the bottom has a finish line.

You can have 4/1 rape, 5/2 cancer, evens genocide.

Heroes & Villains


MTN-Qhubeka: The Tour de France’s first African team fills an unsightly void on the roster.

Sue Smith: “It’s the pinnacle of any player’s career, to play in a World Cup semi-final.”


Jose Aldo: The last thing we needed was an extension to this bullshit.

Leicester City: “Fundamental differences of perspective.” That’s what happens when your head’s in the sand.

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