Monday, July 31

Football's over but the game goes on

Nick Yates watches a tepid weekend of lousy sport

It’s revealing how a sport’s pundits reflect its culture. This was a weekend of the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly in the world of sport. And it was one polarised between the high climes of a racing circuit in Hockenheim and a small stadium in the north of England half-full of pie eaters.

ITV1 had dedicated its schedule on the second day of the weekend to a spot of Sunday driving. F1 (Sunday, ITV1, 12:00) and British Touring Cars (Sunday, ITV1, 3:00) back-to-back made this a good channel for the petrol heads. The commentary consisted of the two leads spouting techno-babble about the cars’ performance. F1 is mired in rules so mind-boggling that the show’s producers need to interrupt the action every 10 minutes for a feature explaining what the hell is going on. Car devotees are a very insular community, and this show does everything it can to enforce the barriers that keep its insiders in and its outsiders out.

F1 is a sport so boring they can have full length ads during the event. Even cricket doesn’t manage this. Whoever’s in charge of adverts at ITV1 had made a curious decision to fill these breaks largely with road safety adverts. During one brief spell - about 30 laps into what seemed an interminable 30,000 lap race - there were three clips urging motorists to slow down and exercise caution on the roads. These punctuated coverage of a sport where cars hurtle round a track at nearly 200mph and commentators enthuse over them spinning off the tracks in flames. Mixed messages?

The rugby league coverage (Sunday, Sunday Grandstand, 2:50) later in the day, in the spirit of its roots in mining towns off the M62, was course and brutal. It does exactly what it says in the Ronseal ad. “Have you got any opinions for us?” the commentator asked in a link to the pitch side analyst.

“Yes, a few, as you might imagine,” came the reply. It’s no surprise that the pitch side analyst has some opinions. It’s kind of his job. It’s matter-of-fact, state-the-bleeding-obvious punditry like this throughout.

Where rugby league coverage is truly painful is in its embarrassing attempts to engage with sport TV’s new-fangled gimmicks. The pundits’ analysis by drawing, as if by magic, on a still from the match to illustrate key points in the play always ends up looking like scribbling on an etch-a-sketch by an inartistic toddler. The live “changing room cam” is surely, in fact, pre-recorded. It shows sanitised scenes of the muscle-bound ugs posing with their shirts off. Funnily enough, you never see any complete nudity or hear any swearing. These must be the most refined sports dressing rooms in the world.

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