Why sport matters

Tuesday 27 October 2009, 13:37

Barbara Slater Barbara Slater Director, BBC Sport

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I have been in my role as the BBC's Director of Sport for six months now, so I'm pleased to have this opportunity to give an insight into what's been going on behind the scenes in our division during that time.

It has been an exhilarating few months for BBC Sport but also a challenging one with the planning of significant outputs such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the 2012 London Olympic Games and the move to Salford all in the pipeline.

These challenges are being met in a sports broadcasting climate that is significantly evolving, with a number of major issues taking centre stage.

Today, in Westminster, I addressed a group of MPs and experts on one of the most emotive issues currently facing the industry - the government's review of listed events legislation.

For the BBC, the debate on the review is very simple.

Free-to-air listed events benefit audiences in a way that few other television events can manage. The arguments for protecting these events of major national resonance, such as the Olympics and Wimbledon, are as relevant today as they were when the system was first put in place.

In a diverse society and fragmenting media landscape, a big sporting moment is one of the few places where people can come together and unite. Major sporting events available on a universal, free-to-air basis must continue to be a cornerstone of our public service broadcasting system and are arguably more important than ever.

And we know that audiences agree.

Research has also told us that there are a core group of fans who are willing to pay to watch sport on television, but that leaves millions who only watch sport on free-to-air-channels. A significant majority of viewers would be lost to sport if they had to pay for it and in that context I believe that making major changes to the current listing structure would irreparably damage the cultural fabric of the UK.

We want to maintain access to sport for people who don't want to pay subscriptions; and, even more crucially, we see it as a public service commitment to help bring different and less mainstream sports to our mass-audience channels.

So with that, I'd like to move on to talking about all of the other things BBC Sport has on its plate at the moment.

In 2008 the BBC broadcast 1,077 hours of sport on terrestrial TV and 3,500 on our interactive services. On radio we broadcast 4,300 hours of output on 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra. We currently show a total of around 57 varieties of sport a year. We are also in the throes of a revolution in the way in which audiences expect their content delivered. Alongside television, that means online, mobile and red button services playing an important role in delivering our content as the national broadcaster.

As we are currently focused on events such as the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February 2010, next year's Football World Cup in South Africa and of course London 2012 - the most important planned event in the UK in our lifetimes and the biggest challenge ever to face BBC Sport - cross-platform services are crucial for all broadcasters in order to fully serve audience demands.

But there is another serious issue which I feel the BBC can play a role in and it is one that is affecting the future of this nation's health.

The British Heart Foundation has recently released research which shows that just one in eight children benefits from the recommended amount of daily exercise.

Their study concluded that more than two-thirds of all British children will suffer from obesity by 2050.

This is a pressing and serious issue and both individuals and organisations can play an important role. Families, of course, are crucial in this, but government, schools and councils have an important part to play too.

Ipsos MORI research indicates that watching live sport on TV can genuinely promote interest in sport, with 43% of UK adults saying that they have become more interested in sport as a result of watching it on TV, and for those who never participate in sport the result is 29%.

But the BBC as the national broadcaster can also have an important role here.

The power of high-quality sports broadcasting can be a powerful tool in inspiring young people to take up sport and increase participation across the country.

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    Comment number 1.

    The BBC has always played a significant part in championing sport in the UK from cup final weekends to the Olympics, from snooker to motorsports. As you say, you have an important role here in promoting participation for the health of our young people. But you also have a role here in promoting sport (and all the hundreds of jobs that sit alongside the actual 'playing') as a career that contributes to the health of our economy and the prosperity of our nation. I work for the charity icould (www.icould.com) where we provide young people with inpiring careers information told by real people in real jobs. Now most people can't play like Wayne Rooney but many can become grounds staff, physios, trainers and dieticians. Organisations like the BBC and charities like icould need to continue showing and promoting sport. Ultimately everyone wins!

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    Comment number 2.


    May I ask where the British Heart Foundation's research is published?

    Although it certainly paints a compelling adition to your discussion I'm not sure it is entirely acurate and I would be very interested to review the BHF report.

    Obesity rates in children aged 2-15 have actually fallen steadily since 2004 (The Information Ctr / NHS) and the level of sport and physical activity undertaken by children, both in and out of a school setting, has risen dramatically since 2000 (School Sport Survey 2005-2009: TNS).

    There are a vast quantity of 'false truths' pedalled by the British public regaring children and young people's interest, ability and participation and sport and physical activity. Perhaps a myth busting article from one of your team may set the record straight? (Heres a few suggestions to get the ball rolling... 'Schools are all selling off playing fields', 'Children aren't allowed to be competitive anymore', 'Sportsdays are banned'... The list could go on!)

    I completely agree with the sentiment of your article and strongly standby the right of the public to view major sports events on free-to-air media. It is very much part of the cultural fabric and would be a sorely missed part of life for many.

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    Comment number 3.

    Can i just say that for all the well-wishing warm zephyrs you leave here the national rugby union and cricket teams play huge amounts of games on Sky, while saturdays are filled with eventing and other minority sports.

    how do you square this with serving the national interests?

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    Comment number 4.

    Tell us about your gymnastics days, Barbara.

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    Comment number 5.


    Very interesting blog but I felt it did not give as much insight as it could on the decision making process involved in selecting events to go on 'the list'. Also, what weight, if any, does EC legislation on competition have on this list?

    For example, the Ashes was broadcast on Sky this year whereas the Six Nations (correct me if I'm wrong) is on the list. What makes one more significant that the other?



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