It’s that time of year again. Get out your pristine white-and-red jerseys and your bike leathers, adorn yourselves with big hats and offensively oversized sunglasses, make some room in your stomach for strawberries and cream and cucumber sandwiches: SPORT IS COMING. Wimbledon is well into its second week, the Tour de France has been going for several days, the rugby’s just finished, the Ashes starts next week and the Open the week after (that’s golf, as it turns out), and the Athletics World Championships are coming in August.
Now, as befits one who blogs about sitting in front of a screen for several hours a day, I’m not big on going out and being active. If strongly coerced I can hit a ping-pong ball across a table, but the thought of pumping weights or running up a hill three times before breakfast is genuinely abhorrent to me. So compared to the agony of doing sport, you would think that watching it would be an improvement. And it is, to a certain extent. I’m usually amenable to a bit of tennis, cycling or gymnastics, and I even watched some of the Olympics last year (mainly the opening ceremony, but, you know – I made an effort). I was there (i.e. watching on TV) for the longest tennis match in history, for Wiggins winning the Tour, for Michael Owen’s World Cup hat-trick, for Mo Farrah’s Olympic gold, and for the idiot in the Boat Race. I was there, man. I know.
Actually, I think the reason that I was content to watch some of these big events was that they were big events. The Olympics, the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour are each a couple of weeks long: they pop up, get everyone excited for a few days, and leave you alone for the rest of the year. Hell, the Boat Race is only on for a couple of hours every 365 days – it’s compact and brief, which is something I very much admire in a sport.
Of course, it also helps if there’s a bit of patriotism involved. As I write, Wimbledon is in full swing and Andy Murray is hanging on in there, while the mighty Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have fallen (though by the time this is published on Thursday, who knows?). It’s quite pleasant to sit at home with a nice cuppa and watch the people on Henman Hill* cheering Murray on as he does his best to bring it home for the Brits. Likewise the Tour: Sir Bradley isn’t in it this year and Geraint Thomas is looking a bit shaky after the almighty crash during the opening stage, but we can still cross our fingers that Chris Froome will come out in yellow. And as for the Olympics – we bloody loved it, didn’t we? I did my best to be cynical in the run-up, but there’s no denying that it really was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
And once-in-a-lifetime is absolutely fine by me. A few weeks each summer where the TV schedules go a bit mad, and instead of getting comedians and actors on my screen I get ripped people in Lycra – I can easily watch a bit of that and then switch to box sets of The IT Crowd and The X-Files for a few weeks. What really bugs me is when sport seeps into my everyday television life, when it’s there, taunting me, day in, day out. This is particularly galling when it’s some activity that’s not even a real sport: darts, snooker, etc. (Note to dartists, snookerers and the like: if you can play it with a pint in one hand, it’s not a sport.)
Take the news. I have never watched a news programme that didn’t have an integrated sports section, often with a special presenter. Why? Why do they do this? Yes, I understand that, to many people, sport is important. I may not agree with what these people enjoy, but I fully support their right to enjoy it. What bugs me is that many of them seem to assume that everyone else enjoys it too. A special news segment on weather, yes – very few people are unaffected by weather. But sport? Sport is, after all, a hobby – why not special segments on other hobbies, like books or TV or food? I would definitely watch the news more if the last five minutes was dedicated to the latest book releases, or recently-commissioned British drama, or the most up-to-date way to cook an egg, rather than to who’s just kicked a ball into a net.
I understand (well, I don’t understand as such, but I am aware of the fact) that people like to follow their teams and so on: that they have an interest in the continuing progression of the Premier League or county cricket or what-have-you. But I have an interest in the continuing progression of, say, David Tennant’s career. Personally, I’d like a cheerful presenter to pop up near the end of the news and say, “Thanks, Bill. Well, the main story today is the retirement of Sir Bruce Forsyth from Strictly Come Dancing, where he has been manager ever since the programme’s inauguration. Colleagues were today calling Sir Bruce, who led his team to victory in the National Television Awards in both 2008 and 2013, “the most mousatchioed man ever to have presented a major-league dancing programme”. In situation comedy, Miranda has been commissioned for a fourth series, although we understand that the line-up will be slightly different from its previous appearances, with Miranda’s mum relegated to the bench and the funny anonymous customer from episode 3.5 in her place up front. Finally, in satire, Alexander Armstrong has received his twenty-third cap for Have I Got News for You. Now over to Brad for the weather.”**
Now I very much enjoyed that little news report, but then I did write it. Which makes me wonder whether I could be wrong about all of this (impossible as that seems). Maybe I am the only person in the country who doesn’t need to hear about birdies and googlies and hairpins every time I turn on the TV. Maybe I’m the only person who’s put out when a beloved TV programme is moved or cancelled because of a sporting fixture that I care less than nothing about (case in point: Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience, which disappeared the week before last because Italy were playing Japan in the Confederations Cup which I’ve never even heard of). But I’m sure there must be others. I’m sure we could club together and start a petition to have the sports section of the news replaced by something better: arts and entertainment, hobbies and crafts, archaeological discoveries, Internet memes, you know the sort of thing. Together, maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.
And now I really must be going: the cycling’s on.
*I don’t like the new name ‘Murray Mount’. It sounds like something from the British Kama Sutra (and what a fine text that would be).
**At the time of writing, none of these things has yet come to pass. But you just wait.