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Before the fame, the sporting brilliance

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Roger Mosey | 17:00 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

One of the criticisms about sport broadcasting in general - and it's been aimed at the BBC in particular - is that we have an over-reliance on celebrities. Since I've never knowingly employed Katie Price or taken cast-offs from Ant and Dec's jungle, I think what's usually meant by that is our selection of on-screen talent.

We've certainly nurtured some great sportsmen and women of the past, like Gary Lineker and Sue Barker, and turned them into our frontline presenters of today; and many of our summarisers and pundits are also big figures from their sports - Michael Johnson, Alan Hansen, Adrian Moorhouse and all the rest.

Michael Johnson

But when I was director of sport I was unrepentant about our talent line-up because actually, in my view, it has the best of both worlds: some of the excellent former practitioners but also strong figures who've emerged through the broadcasting route like Hazel Irvine, John Inverdale and Alan Green. There's a balance between the sports stars and the broadcasters - and what matters is whether they're good at their job. Opinions on that differ, of course, but editorially I was always proud of our team. Ensuring Team BBC is as strong as possible for London 2012 is something we're collectively working on, and it's great news that Michael Johnson has already signed up to be our pundit in the Olympic Stadium.

Michael will be in Berlin in the coming days for BBC Sport's coverage of the World Athletics Championships - and that's where the question of celebrities begins to hit home in a different and more significant way. I was at Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago for the London Grand Prix and what was striking there was the reception for the current number one figure in athletics, Usain Bolt. He had an extraordinary, ear-splitting welcome from the London crowd as soon as they caught the briefest glimpse of him.

Since Beijing, Bolt has been a worldwide phenomenon - so it goes without saying that no British athlete matched that ovation. But all lovers of athletics would accept that we need more British personalities - a much better word than 'celebrities' - as we head towards 2012. You should always be wary of talk of Golden Ages of the past, but the Coe v Ovett rivalry thirty years ago marked an era when athletics was getting audiences into the tens of millions; and we want a new generation to join Paula Radcliffe, Christine Ohuruogu and the emerging stars like Jessica Ennis in getting the crowds cheering. Fingers are crossed that Berlin will witness some promising British performances.

You only need to look at the benefits to cycling of the Chris Hoy factor. Similarly Tom Daley in diving and Rebecca Adlington in swimming, They aren't here-today, gone-tomorrow celebrities - and, most important, it's the public who show their interest in them as personalities. Half-a-million people stayed up to 3am to watch Adlington in Beijing, and there were record audiences at breakfast time for Daley's final. Sport is vital in its own right, we'd all accept, but it's the people who perform the exceptional feats who truly capture the nation's imagination. Rowing won its current status thanks to Redgrave and Pinsent.

Composite of Great Britain's 2008 Olympic gold medal winners

Now, I absolutely accept that it's in part the BBC's role to build up some of these figures in the coming years. Our coverage of the landmark events is key to that; but we also have a great opportunity to support them across all our platforms and services. That means telling their stories at local and regional level; seeing them on the Breakfast sofa and The One Show; hearing them in our regular Olympic sport programming on 5 live; and tracking them on this website. I thought it was a welcome move to have Heather Fell, about to take part in the World Modern Pentathlon Championships, on last Saturday's National Lottery Show in the BBC One peak schedule.

And that points to something where I, again, have no problem with reflecting personality even as we reject an obsession with celebrity: James Toseland reached new audiences on Sports Personality when showed his musicianship so brilliantly, and that can only be of benefit to him and his sport. Similarly, the profiles on Inside Sport or the interviews on 5 live are ways of conveying sporting excellence to millions of people on top of those who watch the live events. We shouldn't be sniffy about using the power of the modern media to win hearts and minds - and attracting more people to the excitement of sport through its personalities can only be a good thing.


  • Comment number 1.

    Alan Green is the best footy commentator on the BBC,its just a shame he upsets so many managers

    As for "over-reliance on celebrities" the BBC is an expert at this,why have 5live signed Robbie Savage? He has no talent and is best known for wiping his hands on the assitants refs shirt after a number 2 in the refs toilet

    The BBC have let go some of there most talented presenters pundits (Saggers,Gough to name just 2 who have joined talkSPORT)Why are the BBC dumbing down to the extent that the likes of Savage are being given key roles?

  • Comment number 2.

    Roger do you know if Sue Barker will be covering the Olympics in 2012? I don't suppose you will have decided yet however its slightly strange that she isn't presenting the World Athletics Championships this year.

    And also why are three presenters being used? Obviously Hazel Irvine is involved but she seems to be missing quite a few shows, I'm pleased with John Inverdale presenting as he is a class presenter, he would have been ideal for the morning sessions with the radio in the evening. The you have Jonthan Edwards doing some shows and other he is commentating, seems a strange arrangement.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Roger
    We do have many talented presenters on the BBC, but for the Athletics coverage I feel John Inverdale would suit the role far bettre than Hazel Irvine or Sue Barker. He has a silky and witty tone and there is a chemistry with his guests. The other two are alright but i feel he would be an improvement. It is also great to see Triathlon and modrn pentathlon coverage on the BBc this weekend. It is about time the british public can watch the tribulations of our great athletes in these sports such as alistair Brownlee. He is a potential gold medalist for 2012 and i think the publicity from the coverage can help familiarise the british public with their athletes. We need more of these sports on the BBC, why can't there be a BBC sports channel eh?

  • Comment number 4.

    Number 1 - I actually don't like Alan Green at all.

    Sorry to say but he just seems to moan about anything and never accepts an alternative opionon from another.

    I did enjoy the swimming commentators...whilst supporting the Brits naturally they also had good knowledge of the other swimmers and made every race seem interesting whereas in sports like athletics I am not sure if they just concentrate on the Brits too much at times?

    Sue Baker is another who really enjoys her job and has a great passion for her game whilst presenting with a smile on her face.

  • Comment number 5.

    David Shield II in #2: yes, Sue Barker will be a key member of the BBC team for London 2012.

    John Inverdale is presenting for both TV and radio from Berlin - part of using our talent across different services.

    Garethsportzone in #3: pleased you're looking forward to the live Triathlon coverage as well as the World Athletics. But it's my traditional point about a sport channel: having these events on BBC One or BBC Two brings them to a massively bigger audience. Our range of red button and online services then gives greater choice and depth than a single digital channel - so we think the present mix works better for our audiences; and that's how we're planning London 2012.

    MarktheHorn in #4: I agree about the swimming commentators. I thought the whole team in Rome did a great job covering the Worlds. Nice to see my old department going from strength to strength!

  • Comment number 6.

    John Inverdale absolutely must be the main male presenter at the London games-- he has had far too small a role (on TV anyway) at the last couple of games, so I'm glad he seems to be doing a bit more coverage of Olympic sports this year. With the always excellent Hazel Irvine and presumably Sue Barker that's the powerhouse trio you need to cover the event.

    And just because it's in London, don't let others jump on the bandwagon. Leave Huw Edwards to covering the news, not over-commentating on the ceremonies, whilst no-disrespect to Gary Lineker but he's not been involved in Olympic coverage since 1996, so shouldn't be bought in for 2012 - not unless there is a role there which doesn't push those more associated with the events out of the way.

  • Comment number 7.

    Roger, if you're going to bring Gary et al in, leave them to do the standalone Football coverage - no one could begrudge them that. I think the main male lead has to be John Inverdale or if you're really savvy, poach Steve Ryder back from ITV where he is woefully underused. Anyone with minds who stretch back to 2000 know that Ryder is the man for the big event, like when Redgrave won gold.

    Have to agree that for the opening/closing ceremony it *must* be a proper commentator/commentary team doing it - and you'd be wise to tell your colleagues looking after coverage for Vancouver to note that too. Huw Edwards was unfortunately not the man for the job in Beijing - leave it in the hands of the excellent Barry Davis.

    The idea of using specialists (Clare Balding for all the horse related events, for example) is exactly what the BBC should be doing and using former stars - where appropriate - definitely adds value. Just got to sort the wheat from the chaff, as there'll be a lot of ex-Olympians around!

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree John Inverdale is a class presenter and he should have a much bigger role at the Olympics for BBC Television but as I'm a big fan of Five Live I do not want it to be at the expense of his work on that network.

    I think it worked really well at Sydney 2000 and Manchester 2002 when he did the daytime coverage (overnight in Sydeny) and still presented the athletics on Five Live, I would like to see something similar in London 2012.

    I'm pleased that he has been used on the World Athletics this year as his hosting in the morning means he can still do Five Live in the evenings.

    I completely agree with Brekkie as I often do, don't use Huw Edwards for the opening and closing ceremonies, I liked the combination of Barry Davies and Hazel Irvine, if anyone else is the be considered then perhaps Nick Mullins.

    I think the best presentation team the BBC have used for the Olympics was for Sydney 2000, so look at that for a starting point I say.

    As for the BBC Sport channel I completely agree with Roger, the current situation of BBC1/2 and the red button works perfectly, if there was a BBC Sport channel there would be a lot of dead air time to fill whereas red button is there when you need it and can be as big (streams) as needed.

    Although I would have liked to have seen some network coverage of the Modern Penthalon this afternoon before the atheltics starts.

    Finally I really enjoyed the triathlon coverage yesterday, it was great to hear Stuart Storey on commentary something I never thought I would hear again on a BBC mike. Liked Michelle Dillon as well.

  • Comment number 9.

    Fantastic news about Michael Johnson being signed up by the BBC for the 2012 Olympics already. In my view he is the best pundit on any sport there is.

    As far as the "celebrity" issue goes I think the BBC have tended to strike a good balance between broadcasters and ex competitors.

    Personally I've always prefered the presenting and commentary left to broadcasters and the analysis left to the ex competitors. However there are of course exceptions to this with people like Andy Jameson and Adrian Moorhouse being fantastic on the BBC's Swimming coverage in the commentary roles in my opinion.

    Also as others have mentioned before me can we please not have Huw Edwards on the Opening Ceremony again.


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