Commentary by Steven Downes
The sudden resignation this week of the BBC’s sports editor Mihir Bose has prompted the question that another former BBC Sport “talent” might have posed: “What happens next?”
Already, bookmakers have been offering odds on the likely successor, with SJA members including Paul Hayward and Adrian Warner named among the favourites.
Given the circumstances of Bose’s departure, one thing is certain: any appointee is to be required to sign in their own blood that they will fully subscribe to BBC Sport’s move from London to Salford in 2011.
Bose, himself an SJA member and a past winner of the SJA’s Sports News Reporter of the Year award, was unavailable for comment after leaving for India at the beginning of the week, where his 93-year-old mother is said to be ill.
The reasons offered for Bose’s resignation varied: BBC press officers said it was because of “personal reasons”, the suggestion being that Bose needs to spend time with his elderly mother; meanwhile “sources close to Bose” – probably meaning Bose himself – said it was because he was unhappy about being forced to move north with the rest of the sports department.
“Mihir had grown deeply unhappy about the move and felt betrayed,” the “source” told the Evening Standard in a strongly supportive article. “He was given assurances when he joined that he would be able to stay in London.”
Yet neither explanation for the departure are entirely convincing.
The BBC may be many things, but they continue to be among one of the country’s better employers, and a spell of compassionate leave would have been entirely possible to allow Bose to be at his sick mother’s bedside.
Bose’s dislike of the Salford move has long been well-known, with sportsjournalists.co.uk reporting the matter earlier this year. The financial consultancy run by Caroline Cecil, Bose’s wife, is firmly based in London and would be another stumbling block to his moving.
At 62, it would have been entirely possible for Bose to wait another two years for a retirement/redundancy deal when the packing cases move in to Broadcasting Centre.
BBC insiders point out that when Bose was appointed to the newly created post in January 2007, it was linked to the Salford move. With the then head of sport Roger Mosey and, on behalf of BBC News, deputy DG Mark Byford taking responsibility for Bose’s appointment, the idea that they would have sanctioned such a high profile Salford opt-out clause seems unlikely.
After Mosey and several other senior BBC Sport figures managed to swerve the Salford move, Bose might have thought that he could also claim some form of exception.
But with Barbara Slater now heading the BBC Sport department, it is understood that a high-level meeting with Bose was called at the end of July. Salford was not the only item on the agenda.
As Charlie Sale reported in midweek, the constant criticism of Bose’s work on the BBC’s blogs was an ever-increasing concern, seen to be undermining the credibility of the sports editor post and the Corporation at large. The establishment of a Facebook group, “Mihir Bose understands…” (mocking Bose’s habit of citing unnamed sources) will have done nothing to assist.
Some have suggested that Bose’s reputation was undermined severely last autumn when he gushingly compared Allen Stanford to Nelson Mandela, barely weeks before the American businessman went to ground over massive debts. Bose has since said that he warned England cricket authorities not to associate with Stanford.
When the BBC created the sports editor post, comparison was made with the BBC’s business editor, in the guise first of Jeff Randall, a former newspaper colleague of Bose, and then Robert Peston.
Despite coaching from a company run by Ian Blandford – the husband of BBC1 controller Jay Hunt – Bose’s television presentation skills remained wanting. Nor was Bose’s broadcast output as prolific as Peston, or did he break any memorable sports stories for the BBC.
Indeed, Bose’s handling of some reports managed to alienate him from some important colleagues at the BBC, both presenters and in production, affecting his opportunities on the flagship Radio 4 Today programme and in covering his sporting first-love, cricket.
With profligate spending at Westminster and the BBC the flavour of the month for other media this summer, Freedom of Information applications to discover details of Bose’s salary and expenses claims may also have been discussed at the meeting with Slater.
Before Bose had even started in his new job, this website flagged up the dilemma facing the BBC sports editor in satisfying BBC News’s journalistic demands while not offending rights-holder BBC Sport. That situation remains unchanged.
Meanwhile, the absolute requirement for any new sports editor to move to Salford may be enough to dissuade many of the biggest names in sports journalism from considering the job.
So, too, might the salary on offer, thought to be in the region of Â£100,000. In these financially straitened times, the Guardian/Observer‘s newest chief sports writer, Paul Hayward, identified as a possible target for the BBC, might not be too keen to take a second pay cut in barely a year since leaving the Daily Mail.
Hayward – who like Bose has been represented by David Welch, the former Daily Telegraph sports editor – is comfortable enough as a guest on TV shows such as Sky’s Sunday Supplement, though his more discursive, feature-writing newspaper style may not provide the hard news stories that the BBC seeks.
Having been passed over when making the Bose appointment, Adam Parsons, the new BOA communications director, may not be persuaded to return to the Corporation, where his Panorama into the death of cricket coach Bob Woolmer is another sports investigation the BBC might prefer to forget.
Of other television sports correspondents, BBC News’s own Ollie Foster and James Munro are good operators when working on diary stories, while James Pearce’s fawning interview manner – as exhibited when granted an audience with FIFA’s Sepp Blatter last year – hardly suggests a series of cutting-edge scoops might be forthcoming.
Dan Roan, recently made redundant at Setanta, is available, though his contacts outside football may not be as extensive as the BBC requires. Adrian Warner, BBC London’s Olympic correspondent and former Reuters and Evening Standard sports news reporter, has made a successful transition to television.
But given the high profile role and the apparent embarrassment over Bose’s departure, the BBC may seek to repair any damage by making a big-name signing from newspapers, or someone from left-field with proven screen-appeal.
That may explain why the bookies have named Matt Pinsent and Clare Balding among the runners and riders. Olympic rowing gold medallist Pinsent’s appearances on Inside Sport have provided a rare bright spot in the otherwise lacklustre programme, while Balding’s all-round ability has merits.
Given the BBC’s own comparisons between Peston on business and its sports editor’s job, then someone such as David Bond, the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph who had previously shone in the sports news beat for the Telegraph, Standard and Sunday Times, could also prove to be a target.
This column in no way represents the policy of the SJA.
Steven Downes is a past winner of the Royal Television Society’s sports news award, and has worked on a variety of programmes at BBC Sport and Channel 4.