How the BBC Could Help Increase Participation in Sports

Fleet Half Marathon
Fleet Half Marathon 2010. Photo by yrstrly on Flickr.

One thing that should be analysed when thinking about success of the Olympics is the broadcast. We should remember that for most people, the entire Olympic experience was mediated by the BBC. I think there is general agreement that they did excellent job – at least, a much better performance than during the Jubilee celebrations! This is obviously because it plays to the BBC’s strengths, reporting breaking news as it happened. Listening to the Olympic coverage on Radio 5 Live was not that different from listening to their usual Saturday afternoon coverage of Football League matches – and I mean that as a conpliment. That broadcast team in particular are already very experienced at juggling several outside broadcast units and reporters on location.

The corporation also did a good job at explaining the rules of many of the obscure sports to novice viewers.

Let us not forget that the BBC did have help from the Olympic Broadcast Service. This is a group of international broadcasters who together deliver the actual Olympic coverage (i.e. making sure we see people cross the line, not making sure Clare Balding interviews them afterwards).  Apparently the BBC was directly responsible for the rowing coverage, but the athletics was actually project managed by the Finnish broadcasters!

All this coverage was enhanced by some fantastic advances in digital technology. There were under water cameras in the swimming pool, boom cameras sweeping over action in the stadia, and cameras on wires tracking the action from above. There were ultra slow motion replays too, all of which led to an immersive experience.

So, what should we learn from all this? Well, obviously we can hope that TV sports coverage will improve across the board. Many of the clever techniques used during the Olympics should be deployed in other, domestic coverage.

But that is not what interests me. I am more interested in how the BBC (as by far the biggest broadcaster in the UK) can help to facilitate grassroots sport. If we accept the premise that much of the enthusiasm for previously obscure sports has come due to increase broadcast exposure, then the BBC could give those same sports a permanent structural boost by simply devoting more coverage to them all year round.

They can do this in two ways: first they can simply send cameras and reporters to cover major sporting events (they may need to do this anyway, to fill the airtime gaps left in the schedules as Premiership football and other highly popular sporting events are snapped up by Sky, Setanta, and ESPN).

Second, they can also do this by improving their online presence, to allow greater crowd sourcing and audience reporting of sporting events. This would enable them to provide coverage of regional and local sports – not just athletics and gymnastics, but non-league football and youth football as well. This will link the broadcaster’s output with communities and the localities that BBC is meant to serve, and should also inspire greater participation, and more people coming out to spectate. In this way, the Olympic spirit that the BBC generated over the past two weeks may be bottled and disseminated to local sports fields and even schools. Continue reading “How the BBC Could Help Increase Participation in Sports”

The Fate of My Namesakes

Tia Sharp Missing Poster

It’s Wednesday evening and we’re on the Victoria Line. A young man strums a guitar and sings while his friend harmonises. Their refrain is “You mean the world to me” and I don’t know whether that’s a popular song in the charts that I have never heard, or of it is their own composition. I hope the latter.

The train pulls into Stockwell Station, where Jean Charles De Menezes was shot dead by CO5 officers. It is also the interchange with the Northern Line, so we get up to leave.

In quick succession, two images drift into my eye-line and draw my attention for the same reason. First, there is a photograph in the Evening Standard of an athlete in Team GB colours, her surname pinned to her chest. It is Lynsey Sharp, the Scot who has qualified for the final of the 800 metres.

Lynsey Sharp at Loindon 2012
Lynsey Sharp at Loindon 2012, after qualifying for the 800 metre final.

Then, as I step off the train and walk towards the tunnel to the other platforms, I double-take at a crude A4 photocopy taped to the tiles. It announces the disappearance of 12 year old Tia Sharp. She is a Londoner and has been missing for six days, but these facts have not penetrated my consciousness until now.
Continue reading “The Fate of My Namesakes”

Cycling to Work on the Eve of the Games

The smug designer with the skinny t-shirt and a fixed gear bike.
The mother in blue track suit with an empty child seat fixed to the pannier.
The ill-prepared lad in the baggy jeans on mountain bike with the seat set way too low.
The hobbyist with orange glasses and Lycra that matches his titanium frame.
The dreadlocked courier with a thick chain wrapped around his chest.
The woman with frayed ginger hair crawling out of her helmet.
The two Japanese tourists, inexplicably on Boris Bikes (miles from a docking station, surely?)

Could I discern
The same eager twitching as the red lights wane,
The same grit of the teeth as clear road opens up ahead
The same extra power on the pedals as the bike overtakes a bus
The same glance over the shoulders, to check the gap between the person behind,
The same confident gait of the one who imagines himself to be wearing a yellow jersey,
As I perceived in myself?

At the four way pedestrian crossing at Ludgate Hill,
When the red lights rudely put the brakes on our makeshift peloton,
Did I perceive in the tall old man in a linen suit,
In the girl in a flowing white dress and flat sandals
In the woman in the business skirt and trainers,
In the sweaty man in shorts, now carrying his fold up bicycle,
A quicker step
A longer stride
A firmer tread
As if the noise that heralded the green man
Was no longer a high-pitched beep
But a starters’ gun?