Blatter flattery sees show off to a false start

Review by Steven Downes
So this was the new, hard-edged journalism we had been promised from BBC Sport.

Was the scheduling earlier in the evening of Panorama‘s report on the Bob Woolmer murder a deliberate attempt from elsewhere within the BBC to expose Inside Sport for the inoffensive bit of fluff that we saw last night?

What we got from the first edition of Inside Sport was a John Terry interview which was beautifully shot… about 10 days ago, when all other news media also had access to the player through a PR launch. Hardly the “exclusive” stuff we had been told to expect, and nor were the questions about Terry’s baby twins the insight we might have hoped for.

So Terry has ambitions to be a manager at the end of his playing career: is that really so surprising?

And what was the follow-up question for Terry after his denial that he made racist remarks to Ledley King earlier in the season? Something about “can we offer you a lift back to Stamford Bridge?”

Inside Sport, remember, has been pitched as a sports news programme that “gets behind the main sporting headlines”. Yet, because of the lead-in time for the filming of this item, there were not any questions about Chelsea’s apparent loss of the Premiership title (Sunday’s and Monday’s headlines in the newspapers that I read) nor about tonight’s second leg of the Champions League semi-final (headlines on the sports pages of most of Tuesday’s papers). It all made the piece seem terribly dated, which is quite an achievement for what is supposed to be a “live” show.

While no questions about the pivotal matches were put to Terry, an attempt at giving the programme an up-to-the-minute feel was made by putting exactly those questions to Des Kelly and Steve Bunce, two good old newspaper pros, but neither of them the Chelsea and England captain. Kelly and Bunce, though, did their best to add a degree of liveliness to an otherwise dangerously soporific programme, given its late transmission time.

The production values, as you might expect, were of the highest quality and Gabby Logan, the show’s host, did a smooth enough job as a presenter.

But where was the original journalism, the hard edge, the difficult questions?

One of the other two filmed elements of the programme was a far-from-new item on the rivalry within the British sailing team that has arisen since double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson took a career break last year to have her twins (what is it about elite sports people and multiple births?).

The film at least made a nodding reference to the fact that Peter Higgs, of the Mail on Sunday, had written extensively on this very story more than four months ago – perhaps the producer felt a pang of guilt. Yet even Kelly then effectively knocked the story down in the studio discussion: “It’s a peripheral sport… It’s not a mainstream sport… The crowd will all be there, drinking Pimm’s and looking the other way,” he said.

Kelly and Bunce provided the programme’s only edginess. If only they had been despatched to Fifa headquarters in Switzerland, maybe they would have asked Sepp Blatter the questions reporter James Pierce evidently had no intention of voicing during his soft-focus, almost Papally obsequious audience with the head of world football.

Blatter, it should be remembered, was turned over pretty thoroughly last year by Panorama. Blatter so feared the questions which their reporter, Andrew Jennings, wanted to ask about illicit payments amounting to millions of dollars from sponsorship agents to senior Fifa officials – some might characterise them as “bribes” – that the BBC’s team then was banned from press conferences.

No risk of such nastiness for Inside Sport: here, Pierce followed Blatter around his palatial office, listening intently to descriptions of the grandchildren’s finger paintings, the assurances that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be just fine (despite all evidence to the contrary), and a virtual anointing of Michel Platini as Blatter’s chosen successor to rule world football.

Even when Blatter listed the flaws in football – cheating, violence, doping, racism, gambling; a pretty dreadful litany, and something Sepp might have tried to do something about in the years he has been in charge – nothing was mentioned of the Swiss court case which the Fifa president is expected to face later this year over the handling of ISL payments.

Or maybe that might have been just a tad too far inside sport.

More Zoe Ball than Jeremy Paxman – read The Guardian‘s review

“Excellent show, very interesting. Gabby Logan is a great presenter and Steve Bunce is a legend. Can’t wait for next week.” “Brilliant! Just brilliant… 10/10”. Read more comments such as this on the BBC’s own website by clicking here

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Steven Downes is a past winner of the Royal Television Society award for sports news journalism.