Saturday, 28 February 2015

Televised Inspiration Comes At A Price

By Shane Thomas

The two events may seem unrelated, but the loss of the Open Championship on the BBC, and the latest new television deal for the Premier League both underscore what's becoming an increasingly accepted phenomenon; the enisling of televised sport from the British public.
It's hard to pinpoint when the sports-industrial complex became an accepted norm, but it was television that gave the engine its fuel. The key way many of us mediate with sport is when our 'black mirrors' are switched on. It gives us all a window into its wonders and worriments, and without it, we would have no medium with which to consume sport, and form our own opinions into what we see (although, how often that stops some from adding their tuppence worth is open to debate).

The government are ostensibly cognisant of the significance of sport in British life, as certain events - dubbed "crown jewels" - are mandated to be aired live only on terrestrial television, such as the World Cup, or Wimbledon. But the financial muscle of Sky Sports - with BT Sport now joining the fray - has led to a piecemeal splintering of the aforementioned crown jewels.

It would be remiss not to mention that much of the standard of Sky Sports's coverage is proficient. Being a channel devoted solely to sport gives them sufficient time to analyse the on-field action. While Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher's work on Monday Night Football is often appointment television, they simply couldn't be as effective on Match of the Day, due to time constraints. I'm also of the opinion that the example set by Sky has forced the BBC to try raise their own standards.

However, quality coverage doesn't change the fact unless you have the financial means, a great deal of sport is unavailable to you. I hardly grew up in penury, but it wasn't until I was in full-time work for a few years that I was able to afford a Sky subscription.

This has - inadvertently or otherwise - led to a state of play where one's access to televised sport exists on a sliding scale depending on finances, and this intersects socially along the realms of class and race.

For my money, the greatest day in British sport was that special Saturday at the London 2012 Olympics, when Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford, and Mo Farah all won gold medals in the space of an hour, in front of a rapturous home crowd, long with 17 million more watching on television.

Now imagine that this event was on satellite television? Would it have had the same resonance? And don't say that it didn't have wider social significance. In the subsequent weeks, you could barely turn on your computer without stumbling on a thinkpiece stating how the success of a mixed-race woman, and a Somali migrant, competing under the Team GB banner was a beacon of progress for the country.

It's an assertion that I largely agree with. Every athlete of the future has to start somewhere. And that somewhere is often a television screen. I'd wager an incalculable number of children watched that Saturday, and thought, " I want to be like Jess/Greg/Mo when I grow up."

Obviously, the majority won't get near to such an auspicious ambition. But there will be the odd one. The one who has the drive, the talent, and the fortune to forge a career at the highest level of sporting endeavour. All they needed was a spark.

It's television that provides that spark. The conduit that allows us to revel in the tales of our sporting heroes and villains. But we're currently on an ineluctable path in which televised sport is becoming ring-fenced for those of means.

Recent statistics place 13 million UK citizens living in poverty, with this affecting roughly 2/5ths of the population who are people of colour. The riches offered at the high end of sport can offer these communities a potential path towards upward mobility, and there's the intangible sense of self-worth one can feel when getting a chance to show the best of yourself.

Beyond reality TV, televised sport is one of the few communal experiences Britain has left. It's an indicator for what kind of nation we are. You should not be able to put a price on the inspiration that can be derived from watching one perform great athletic feats,

The fact that you apparently can is a sad state of affairs.

"The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available at and, e-mail us at and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH

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