The BBC’s latest attempt at handling sports news hits our screens tonight with Inside Sport. In today’s Guardian, Owen Gibson interviews the programme’s host, Gabby Logan
As acrimonious sporting transfers go, it didn’t quite match Luis Figo’s switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid that saw him pelted with a pig’s head by furious fans at the Nou Camp. But Gabby Logan’s winter move from ITV to the BBC was not altogether friendly, coming as it did after she was sidelined as the main football anchor in favour of Steve Rider. Even Figo was not forbidden from talking about his reasons. “I’m not allowed to talk about ITV,” says Logan, cheerfully. “They have an injunction. I might get sued.”
There is no doubt that Logan’s final year at ITV was difficult. Rider was brought in over her head, a very public demotion that left her interviewing David Beckham in Germany but not fronting a single England game, and she was shunted from Champions League duties in favour of the eastern European outposts of the Uefa Cup.
Her first few months at the BBC, including stints hosting the 5 Live breakfast show alongside Nicky Campbell (“really generous” and “a good giggle”), standing in for Gary Lineker on Match of the Day and a handful of live FA Cup matches, appear to have restored her breezy confidence and good humour.
Friends say it hides a steely ambition that enabled her to overcome early charges of nepotism at Sky Sports (her father is former Wales manager Terry Yorath) and sporadic sexism to succeed Des Lynam as ITV’s main football anchor. But before leaving the network, she admitted the World Cup episode had “dented my confidence and made me question my abilities”.
And no sooner had she arrived than BBC Sport suffered the setback of losing the rights to the FA Cup and England home games to ITV and Setanta. Logan admits the FA’s decision to go for the Â£425 million on offer from its rivals, amid much speculation about the FA’s dissatisfaction with the alleged flippancy of Lineker and co, was a “massive shock”.
On the FA’s displeasure with the BBC’s presentation style, she backs her new colleagues: “You’re there to say what you see. You employ pundits of the highest calbre so they can express their opinions, not to be told what to say. Nobody apologies for that in this department and you don’t back down on that. I think it’s a mistake to have brought it up. It takes away from the issue, which is money at the end of the day.”
And as she came to the BBC to cover a range of sports across radio as well as television, ITV’s “snatch of the day” was less of a blow to her personally. Right now, her focus is Inside Sport, the new magazine show considered a central plank of director of sport Roger Mosey’s mission to beef up the BBC’s sports journalism. The programme debuts tonight for a five-week run at 11.05pm on BBC1, with a repeat on BBC2 on Sunday mornings, and will return in the autumn for a 14-week series.
Early signs suggest that under the aegis of former One and Six O’Clock News editor Amanda Farnsworth it has mutated into more of a magazine show than the harder news-edged programme initially suggested by Mosey. A studio panel of Sunday Sport editor turned North West Tonight sports reporter Tony Livesey, quick-witted 5 Live pundit Steve Bunce and Daily Mail sports columnist Des Kelly suggests the tone will be blokey, opinionated and fast-paced. Jeff Randall will be called upon to dissect sports business stories, as will sports editor Mihir Bose.
There will be longer lifestyle interview pieces with the likes of boxer Ricky Hatton and footballer Owen Hargreaves, which Logan hopes will reveal a side to sports stars increasingly hidden by the tight control of access by PRs and agents: “It’s about being fair without being anodyne. We want to get into the lives of sportsmen. It’s not Hello! and it’s not MTV Cribs. It’s about seeing what makes them tick.”
And lest that all seems a bit lightweight, she adds: “Whether it’s a drugs in sport story or an Olympics story, there will be serious news. Hopefully it will evolve and we will be talking about it in three years’ time. People keep asking, is it Observer Sports Monthly? Is it Newsnight? It has elements of those things but it’s something different.”
As is the current vogue at the BBC, Inside Sport is unashamedly aimed at light viewers – young, working-class men, essentially. But Logan hopes the programme will have a broader appeal.
“We want sports fans but we want it to be wider than that. My mum only tunes in to see what colour my top is but I think she would be interested in this because it’s about other things around the sport, not just live action,” she says.
Yet she also knows the key to its success is snaring committed fans: “My dad and Kenny [Logan, her husband and a former Scottish rugby international] watched a pilot and they were both really excited about it.”
Logan knows not all reaction to the new programme will be positive. She recalls with a shudder one review of her performance hosting the Champions League final that savaged her appearance and clothes, but made little reference to her presentation style. “Some of them do seem personal. There was nothing at all in that particular critique about anything I’d said or done. With something like that you do wonder what the agenda is. Misogyny? Not sure. It did seem to be a very personal kind of attack,” she says.
“But I try to retain the mindset that you don’t take too much notice of these kind of things. You have people around you who are professionals and if they think something’s not quite right then you would take stock. But if you start listening to everyone’s opinions – whether good, bad or ugly – then you’ll end up in the nearest loony bin.”
Her new portfolio role appears to suit her. Yet Logan is under no illusions and a hint of that steely streak and competitive edge that took her to the Commonwealth Games as a gymnast comes out as she describes the challenges ahead. “There’s a lot of pressure. In the last 10 to 15 years, the BBC has had competition from all angles. But coming from a sporting background, I think that competition is healthy. It raises the bar, it pushes standards forward and you keep on pushing yourself.”
This is a version of an article available at Guardian Unlimited. Click here to read the whole piece (may require registration)