Inverdale: Time for athletics to get TV makeover

Ahead of this week’s European athletics championships in Barcelona, BBC television presenter and SJA member JOHN INVERDALE argues that the sport needs to modernise its relationship with TV

People within the sport have to understand that there is still a certain amount of disenchantment with athletics and people need to be won back to the sport.

It requires an acceptance across the board that changes are needed. We’re not saying turn it into It’s A Knockout, but the TV coverage does needs to be modernised. You couldn’t imagine now a Formula 1 race without a camera in the cockpit and you can’t imagine watching a rugby match without hearing what the referee is saying.

So why on earth when a coach is talking to an athlete before a jump can’t we listen to that conversation?

I’ve watched the sport for 40-odd years and it hasn’t changed in that time. If I am brutally honest there are very few sports you can say that of.

Look at swimming with the underwater cameras, look at what Barry Hearn has done with snooker. Athletics just needs to wise up a bit.

One of the problems with athletics is you often have an awful lot of time between events where there is not a lot going on.

I love javelin and the hammer, but the moment you go to the shot qualifying, there are an awful lot of people that you can feel reaching for the remote.

Another issue is how often do we see the long jump away for the bulk of the crowd on the far side of the track? You need to change the event timetable to put these events on so people can see them to help create an atmosphere.

From a television point of view we also need to do more with innovative camera angles. Is it not possible for every runner to wear a camera inside their headband in, say, the steeplechase?

You only have to look at every other sport to realise that anybody who says it doesn’t need a makeover is living in the past.

Every other sport has moved ahead with the times.

Another question that needs to be asked is why is the public not engaged in track and field at the moment?

A key element to this is that the athletes need to understand how important it is to get the message across to the public and to become amenable.

Look at, say, Frankie Dettori, who is always happy to do an interview less than a minute before riding a big race, where an athlete is virtually untouchable in the immediate run up to a competition.

I am not suggesting we should be interviewing athletes at all times before an Olympic Games, but certainly in the Diamond League they should be a lot more access to the athletes.

In this day and age, athletes who can find time to Twitter five minutes before going out on the track should realise that they need to make themselves available for interviews.

Athletes need to realise where they are in the sporting pecking order. Usain Bolt is a massive global superstar, but if you said Allyson Felix to most people in the street, most would ask “Is she in Hollyoaks?”

So those athletes who say “You can’t talk to me now” ought to be told: “Listen guys, you ought to grow up a bit, because in the general scheme of things you are not a Beckham, you are not a Premier League footballer and your sport desperately needs as much help as it can get at the moment, you are the people who can help it more than anybody”.

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