BBC Athletics Coverage

A New Year: Same old format.

That’s the impression I, and a lot of others got when watching the BBC’s coverage of the Birmingham Indoor GP this weekend. How can they get it so wrong with athletics when their football, golf, tennis, rugby, even lawn bowls coverage is as good as it gets?

The one advantage the BBC has over most other broadcasters is that there are no adverts. This means that in a 3 hour broadcast you have roughly half an hour more than ITV or Sky Sports to show the action, or in the BBC Athletics team’s case, talk at length about a social media spat, or the London Marathon (which takes place in 2 months time), or haberdashery, or breastfeeding. Talk about whatever you like. Just make sure it interrupts as much of the live action as possible.

Never mind #BoltDown or #MoTime – how about #ChatEnd or #ActionTime countdowns, so we can set a timer & come back to the TV when you decide to show what we’ve all tuned in to watch. Imagine using all that time spent chatting & showing slow motion replays from 16 angles to instead give a chance to someone like Lee Emanuel, who went 2nd on the UK Indoor 1500m all time list, meaning he’s the second fastest UK man over 1500m indoors in history. Ever. Quite an achievement I’d say, but definitely not worth an interview with the BBC. Imagine if he had something interesting to say. Maybe that TV exposure after a breakthrough performance for him could have resulted in some mildly life changing opportunities. Who knows? Who cares? The BBC certainly doesn’t. Anyway, that interview time would have caused pandemonium with the montage schedule.

The Red Button coverage works. What we usually get on the Red Button is Steve Cram, the absolute pinnacle of commentating excellence. Stuart Storey, who sounds like he has rocked up to the commentary box straight from an all day drinking session at a free bar, which is quite entertaining. Tim Hutchings, occasionally throwing in a comment about how pleasing to the eye Darya Klishina is (which you aren’t allowed to say on TV), but otherwise doing an excellent job. Steve Backley is also underused on the non-Red button format but does an excellent job – as does Paula Radcliffe. The Red Button works because you take away ‘studio chat’ & instead get voiceover analysis, without going over the top, resulting in the amount of action shown on the screen being nearly doubled & not happening in the background as viewers try to get a glimpse of what’s going on behind the people with microphones.

We all know that there is an uninterrupted stream of action which is filmed & easily broadcast-able, which goes from track to field showing events as evenly as possible. What we get on BBC One, Two & Three is picking and choosing what they show, with seemingly no time limit on how long the usual suspects can chat about how nice their hotel is in between track events. If you are tuning in to a Diamond League to watch throws & other field events, forget it. Save yourself the infuriation & wait until a resourceful Russian person puts the highlights on YouTube. The Diamond League I can recall enjoying the most last summer was the New York one, during which we saw a lot of the men’s high jump on the Red Button & it turned out to be one of the greatest competitions in history. Imagine how little of that they would have shown if the panel of Loose Women had been up to their usual tricks & using the time to discuss live on air which flight home they were getting.

If I were the director I would allocate 20-30 minutes before the action starts to get all the montages, pre-comp athlete interviews & irrelevant subject discussions out of the way so once the action starts, everyone who’s tuned in to watch the athletics can watch the athletics. If it’s Philip Bernie (the BBC’s head of TV sport) who is responsible for the current format, then he does well to stay out of the limelight while the exceptional array of ex-athletes employed to be the faces of his athletics coverage become the scapegoats for his ineptitude. His responses to the questions in the Athletics Weekly interview were, in my opinion, absolute nonsense. If someone were to have read his answers to the probing questions, then tuned in to watch the coverage from Birmingham on Saturday as a first time BBC viewer, it would not have taken them long to realise he was talking nonsense either.

I’ve seen rumours of the BBC not getting renewed coverage rights for the Diamond League. To be honest, it wouldn’t bother me at all were it to switch to a different channel. I would rather pay a subscription to watch what I want to watch, than have to watch what I don’t want to watch because I pay my licence fee. It makes my afternoon/evening when athletics coverage is on the TV and it is done right, like it usually is on the Red Button and almost always is on Eurosport (despite adverts). Why can’t it just be done correctly when I type in the number on remote control of whichever of the BBC channels the coverage happens to be on?

Nothing I say will change anything as it’s hard to have any influence in athletics when you can’t even qualify for the Commonwealth Games javelin final, but I know I’m not the only one thinking these things. I would love it if a big name has a mild outburst when interviewed by the BBC and highlights some similar points to the ones I’ve made, while live on air. That would be superb.

I know the coverage format won’t change any time soon, but I’ll keep tuning in and having a whinge until it does.

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Why do some people dislike Justin Gatlin so much?

It is quite simple really. It would still bother people that he’s failed 2 drugs tests, but not as much, if he conducted himself in totally the opposite manner to how he does now. His arrogance & complete disregard for the fact that he has tarnished the reputation of athletics, almost irreparably now, is sickening to observe. It’s got to the point where I now see a man who is relishing being the villain. Why would anyone want to come back from what he has done, to act in an immature, arrogant, shameless, repulsive & disrespectful way? He doesn’t strike me as particularly intelligent, judging by his spelling & grammar on Twitter. This will obviously be a contributing factor. You can’t deny his talent, or the fact that he is just following the current rules of the sport by still being allowed to compete, but you also can’t argue for a second that the way he conducts himself is not a blatant showing of sticking 2 fingers up to athletics & all clean athletes.

Villains are an important part of sport. The rebellious characters are often the most talented & popular, whether it is off or on pitch antics that cause the headlines. Controversy can be good for a sport at times, by generating wider interest & dividing opinion, but not when it is someone who is completely disrespecting the values of clean sport and competing on a level playing field, with the way they act in front of the world.

For me, all it would take is saying sorry. Sorry goes a very long way. Being in denial, or acting as if it never happened just fuels the fire of observers who think you should not be competing ever again. Acknowledgement of the fact that you have messed up/made a mistake, whether knowingly or not (which we may never know/believe), is a massive step towards forgiveness. He failed 2 drugs tests; those are mistakes! I heard Gatlin’s agent talking about the situation and people needing to “just let it go” in a reverend-esque manner and forget all about the fact that his client (who will be making the agent an excellent living with his “cut”) epitomises everything honest, hard working, non-shortcut taking people/athletes go against. Why is that so hard to understand for Justin Gatlin? Just say sorry for your stupidity and letting your sport down, twice! Don’t respond by putting quotes on your Instagram page that are again sticking 2 fingers up to “the haters”. It is infuriating. I don’t care whether he opens up and admits to taking drugs or not, all I want is to hear the word sorry and some acknowledgement/remorse for the fact that it did actually happen. Saying “you can’t change the past” and leaving it at that is not good enough. If all drugs cheats apologised & told the full story they are not as likely to be vilified. Why does this hardly ever happen? It may be unwanted attention for them but at least it shows a decent human being is in there somewhere. All people make mistakes but to not acknowledge them in any way & keep carrying on, with a demeanour that screams you know the incident(s) happened & that people aren’t happy about it is the best way for someone to forever be a recipient of abuse.

I never thought I’d say this but part of me actually feels sorry for him. It’s a shame that someone as talented as him has ended up so incredibly fundamentally flawed as a human being. What I would like to remember when he eventually retires is a man who was graceful & humble for the final years of his career. I can’t ever see it happening, but fingers crossed. Until that happens, I will find it impossible to let go of the strong feeling of disgust I have towards him, and until the IAAF do something about their laughable drugs ban policy, I hope (as has happened this week) more high profile athletes speak out about their displeasure to make the championship/Diamond League environment as uncomfortable as possible for unremorseful drugs cheats.

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The problems with Javelin in the UK

Why is javelin currently such a weak event in the UK? What I go on to say now might sound like I am having a pop at individuals. I probably am in some cases but it’s not my intention to personally attack, I just think some facts need to be laid out & home truths told.

I’ve never been very good at throwing a javelin. That is why you have never heard of me. I got quite close to something I would have considered respectable in 2011, but then got injured due to an unfortunate slip while warming up as the important part of the season arrived and things quickly went downhill. That slip has gone on to haunt me for 3 and a half years since. I think once you have achieved the A standard for a major championships, you have earned some bragging rights, whether you choose to use them or not. I would hope the majority of people would not choose to use them & continue to work hard & be humble not thinking they have ‘made it’. Unfortunately for whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to be the case with a lot of people, even if they haven’t achieved anything like a major championships A standard, which I will never understand. Had I ever scraped over 82 metres/whatever the A standard was at the time, I would not have been satisfied. Javelin is an extremely technical, difficult event, almost everyone that does it will surely testify to that. I got to a point where I could throw 79 metres off half my run up, but as soon as doubled the length of it my best was only 80 metres. This was extremely disappointing for me, as everything was indicating that I had the capability to throw 83/84 metres in 2011 had I actually got hold of a throw properly. But there is nothing I can do about that now & I wasted my best opportunity.

To come back from the injury nightmares I have had to suffer & throw a season’s best at the Commonwealth Games was actually, on reflection, quite a good performance. Although, due to lack of confidence/protecting my shoulder for so long, I have completely lost my ability to get into a technical position that is conducive to making a javelin go anywhere near a respectable distance, throwing 70 metres in a position which looks as powerful as a month old salad indicates to me that I haven’t lost much throwing ability, despite being told 13 months previously that I would never throw again. I have had my bicep tendon detached & screwed back into its insertion, which unfortunately could have been spotted in May 2012, but wasn’t spotted until July 2013, by which time I had already followed the previous surgeon’s advice & carried on as if I was fixed. The fact that my bicep tendon was dislocating every time I threw, due to the pulley around it being torn & the surgeon that twice operated on me apparently not knowing that there is a strong relationship between rotator cuff tears (my 1st surgery) & bicep pulley tears, meant that I had effectively pulled my shoulder apart by throwing for 14 months with a massive instability which caused excruciating pain & 6 separate significant tears/injuries that I was unaware of (I had at some point dislocated my shoulder while throwing, without knowing it). What a waste of time that was. When you’re told you’re fixed by a so-called expert in London, you’d trust that advice, wouldn’t you? This is only until your first day back throwing after 8 months of rehab & your first throw, which has the force to go about 15 metres, ends up being a solid 9.5 out of 10 on the pain scale. If anyone thinks this is me just being bitter, it is to a large extent, but I know for a fact that I am not the only person to have suffered at the hands of this surgeon & ended up in the exact same scenario needing the same repair from a different surgeon. You would be bitter too, trust me on that.

So following on from that, I believe one reason I believe javelin is suffering in the UK is because the governing body do not care enough about throwing events to send their funded athletes to the best people available. This would be expensive wouldn’t it, so it’s better for everyone to do things on a budget. Never mind if it ruins that athlete’s career/life. Kick them off funding when they can’t get fit again & let the event suffer. The best javelin thrower we have had since Steve Backley led the era of our greatest ever throwers had to go to America to get a shocking job of an elbow surgery (performed by the governing body designated surgeon) corrected & repaired properly by a real expert, someone who performs these operations very regularly with high profile baseball pitchers. Why weren’t they sent there in the first place? Would that not make sense to find the best person for the job, instead of someone who is probably more used to alleviating elbow pain in members of the general public so they can carry their Waitrose shopping bags with minimal discomfort again? It makes sense to me, but clearly not to the governing body medical team. This should not be happening to top athletes. It doesn’t matter if it happened to me because I was not a top athlete, so who really cares whether irreparable damage is done.

There is no national structure when it comes to throws in general. It is a complete mess. All the resources have been poured into track events & relays for the last few years & you can see the results. What sprinters in the UK are doing now is exceptional. Imagine if they had invested in evenly spreading their resources & given throwers of a similar ability level to what some of those sprinters were when they were put on relay funding the same opportunity. This doesn’t mean just throwing money at them. It is finding a system that seems to work in Germany, Finland, Russia etc & applying it to the UK. Everyone seems to feel threatened by each other in UK javelin for whatever reason. There are now people making huge efforts to correct this so I hope in the next few years we will see a change.

Mediocrity is something I hate. I was mediocre at best. Why do a lot of javelin throwers in the UK seem to get a buzz from being mediocre? I was embarrassed to have not thrown as far as I wanted to. To me, the thought of promoting myself & expecting to be rewarded for what I had achieved was ludicrous. A lot of what I see & hate nowadays is down to social media. People are being heavily rewarded for mediocrity & living social media celebrity lifestyles. It is totally wrong. Maybe this is just how I’ve been brought up, to not be a show off & to actually want to get the most out of myself. I certainly would never accept being rewarded for falling short & expect to have a list of sponsors that I can’t fit in my Twitter bio. I threw 80.38 metres at age 22. This distance would have missed the final of the London 2012 Olympics by 1cm & placed 13th. For this I was ‘rewarded’ with £1000 I could claim back & not a lot else. I got an Adidas kit drop, but all I asked for was a vest so I didn’t look like a complete noddy against the world’s best at the Crystal Palace Diamond League, which I got a slot to throw at because Mervyn Luckwell, who is the best male javelin thrower we’ve had in recent years was injured that year & I was the next best. I got sent a dressing gown & some leftovers of the previous year’s kit instead, no vest. Rightly so. It is just a distance; there were no major medals of note to go with it, I didn’t deserve anything. I was embarrassed to win the UK champs that year with 74 metres. My bronze medal from the UK champs this year can now be found at a landfill site in the Midlands. Getting a medal in a javelin competition in the UK nowadays is not a great achievement. Sounds harsh to say it but if people actually want to do the sport to be good at it they need to look at themselves and admit that what they are currently doing is not good enough, so getting a medal at the Bedford Games with less than 70 metres & being happy with it is not the kind of approach that is going to get you a sponsored car & a lucrative contract. Nowadays, to want to be a full-time javelin thrower as a male with no other worries in life you are going to have to throw over 80 metres almost every week & at best be at least around 84 metres plus. That is the harsh reality of javelin throwing in the UK. Don’t have one or two half decent comps in the UK and expect all of life’s difficulties to disappear as a result of it.

It depends how good you want to be I suppose. I completely respect it if people aren’t kidding themselves & do it for the enjoyment of throwing PB’s even if they know they aren’t ever going to be particularly good. I don’t respect people having smoke blown up their backsides by athletes & coaches for throwing a distance which would come last in qualifying at a major champs when that person considers themselves elite & worthy of hashtag sponsorship.

What is good now is that there are a few very promising youngsters around & more people with the right attitude who know how difficult it is going to be but are willing to put in the work. Going into a javelin career expecting to make loads of money is the wrong approach. Maybe if you don’t have that approach in the first place you might actually end up achieving it. Picturing these rewards is a very bad idea. Maybe just be patient enough & humble enough to wait until you’ve actually achieved them & they’re in your hands (or bank account).

Surrounding yourself with people who are exceptional athletes & have been exceptional athletes is a privilege & something I could not recommend highly enough. The only thing I am really proud of in my career is having the opportunity to train with Jess Ennis in Leeds for my throwing sessions for almost 5 years. She personifies what good is & how to conduct yourself in all walks of life. Even though she’s not a javelin thrower, she added around 20 metres to her PB in the time spent with Mick Hill, so what I would give to have everyone that does javelin in the UK given that opportunity to learn how to apply yourself like she does & act in a way that commands nothing but respect & admiration. Being the big fish in your small pond & comfort zone is not going to be the way forward. Put yourself in a situation where you can learn from those who are good at what they do, better than you & find a way to be better than them!

It frustrates & eats away at me every day that I haven’t become the athlete I wanted to be. Maybe I can get close in the future now that I am healthy at the start of winter training for the first time since October 2010. The fact is though that I work 45 hours a week but still struggle to afford to live, I am trying to get some more qualifications & life is not easy, so to want to be good as good as I need to be is going to be very difficult & I need to fully back myself & suck it up & commit. That is the reality unless you are good enough. I hope more people doing javelin in the UK get given the opportunity to be good, conduct themselves appropriately & don’t end up wasting it.

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Who are the people that get annoyed the most by drug cheats in sport?

There is a vast spectrum of reactions to cheating in sport. Some people aren’t fussed, some want to hunt down & kill the athlete responsible. Why does it affect some & not others?

A member of the general public, with no particular vested interest in said sport, is only likely to hear about an incident of cheating if it hits the national newspapers/world news as a result of the athlete in question being of a high profile. The likely, instant reaction will be one of “they’re all on it” or “ban them for life”, or “they probably didn’t mean it”.

A fan of the sport, whether they are currently still participating in it, or have done in the past, or just have a deep interest in it, may take a more rational, considered approach, before deciding whether or not to unleash a barrage of expletives at the athlete whose reputation is now in tatters & has further tarnished the reputation of elite sport.

The fact is, unless you deliberately set out to cheat & come clean admitting you have done so (not that many caught athletes are decent enough human beings to do so), there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for having a banned substance in your body, none whatsoever. I don’t care if it was a massage cream, an asthma medication, ‘contaminated meat’, a dodgy batch of an unnecessary supplement, or a penis enlargement pill, you are liable & whatever punishment gets given needs to be served in full. Having a career in high level sport is a massive privilege, a dream, but nowadays it is almost acceptable to come back from the ultimate dishonesty to yourself, your family, your coaches, your governing body, your sponsors, your competitors & the paying public, & have it be as if the ultimate deception never happened.

The latest ‘in thing’ seems to be helping the people at the top with information regarding other people who are engaging in shady drug related behaviour, which, let’s be honest, is most likely bogus information, in reward for having your “sentence” reduced for such a noble act, despite the fact you have gained an unfair advantage over your competitors, which you may benefit from for years to come, despite the fact your ban has been reduced to just 3 months. It is an absolute disgrace.

Having been injured for such a long time, I know now that I genuinely, 100% would rather have endured the shame of being a convicted drugs cheat than enduring the hell of injuries I have been through, due to clueless diagnosis & repeated ignorance of those who could have sorted me in less than half the time & not ruined my future. I would then have been able to continue training & progressing, while reaping the benefits from the illegal substance. Plus, the punishment isn’t really that bad, is it? A slap on the wrist, at most.

What is the punishment, really? How many pay back the prize money they have stolen from their competitors? How many athletes have finished behind these cheats & been denied $1000 here and there on multiple occasions. It adds up. There must be hundreds of cheated athletes out there, who are honest, smart in their decision making, hard working, genuine people who want the best out of themselves, whether that makes them the best in the world or not. Why should they suffer at the hands of these easily forgiven, easily re-integrated, shameless characters that have failed their sport, but are then allowed to carry on as if it never happened?

I get the impression that the majority of people that aren’t bothered about drug cheats competing again are the ones who actually compete alongside them.  My opinion is that they aren’t bothered because they make a good living from the sport, so at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who they compete against. I suppose this is absolutely fair enough. I don’t blame any elite athlete for having this opinion, but for any of them to come out & tell those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to compete at a level we want to, or those of us who just sit and watch behind our phone keypads, to lay off the negative comments & ‘trolling’ of these cheats is a bit misguided. It actually annoys me that they might have been denied an extra £500 in that race, which they could have spent in Nandos.

What I want to see & what I think would be great for attracting more fans to the sport, is more current athletes speaking out controversially & passionately with some damning comments aimed at people who have come back from bans & are now competing against them. Due to there being so many media platforms available, you can’t say anything nowadays without having some overly PC media relations person wagging their finger at you and telling you that you must thank the National Lottery and governing body instead of having a real opinion. They are few and far between, but I love talented people who are not afraid to speak out & say what they really think. Whether you like football or not, nowadays within that sport you have great examples of Marmite characters such as Robbie Savage, Gary Neville & Roy Keane, who were generally hated by opposition fans as players, but have now become great value pundits because they are not afraid to voice their opinion. The BBC & their athletics coverage are some of the worst culprits for not speaking out for what they really feel (apart from Steve Cram who never manages to hide the tone of disappointment in his voice when talking about drug cheats, which is excellent). It is the most accessible platform for viewing athletics in the UK so get some controversial characters on there, create a reasoned debate & get people passionate about real issues & ridding the sport of these cheats & making the environment as uncomfortable as possible for them on their return with probing questions & controversial views. Instead of generating interest in this way, the BBC prefer to show montages of things that happened in 1984, gossip endlessly about stuff that should be on a lunchtime chat show, show the last 5 laps of the 10,000m in slow motion, slate our Olympic champions, moan about how our clean athletes are underperforming against cheats & completely ignore field events. The reaction to their coverage on social media is more than enough to know that a change needs to be made there, but don’t get me properly started on that now.

Dwain Chambers is probably one of the most famous British drug cheats there has been. The thing that, in my mind, sets Dwain apart from all other cheats & actually makes him a decent guy is that he has more than done his bit to say sorry. He has written a book, educated youngsters on smart decision making, acted humbly, respected how lucky he is to have had his opportunity again and he actually said the word “sorry”. Why wouldn’t he challenge the BOA ban on competing in the Olympics? No other country has to suffer that indemnity after being caught, so why are the British allowed to be different? It needs to become a worldwide level playing field, but I can’t see it ever happening as not enough is being done in the majority of countries who have a high percentage of cheats to combat & stop this cheating culture. Again this boils down to costs, but if the people at the top really cared about making athletics a clean, honest, genuine sport, they would make it happen. It is a real shame that the people ruining the sport & who aren’t annoyed the most by drug cheats are the ones at the top who run the sport, because they need to be totally unforgiving & ruthless if they want their sport to last.

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