Not so brilliant BBC exposed by losing out in race for World Athletics Championships

On Sunday, at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, presenter Jake Humphrey promised that the BBC team would continue to cover motor racing “brilliantly”.

I was close to jumping from the sofa to hide behind it. He sounded like one of those disc jockeys who insist on reading out their emails telling them how good they are.

Humphrey, for whom I have much admiration, allowed the emotion of the BBC having to end its exclusive contract with Formula One from next season to turbocharge him into the kind of hubris that he would normally avoid.

In these days of Twitter and blogging of course, there had been a huge immediate reaction to the news that Sky would be the dominant partner in the new arrangement and, apparently, there was much praise for the BBC’s broadcasting of the sport.

While its coverage of grands prix might well be ‘brilliant’ for the aficionados, it leaves this occasional viewer reaching for an adjective a little less complimentary.

Despite the commentary which rarely pauses for breath, there are aspects of the sport which still go over my head like ‘pitting’ strategy and tyre changes, not to mention all those acronyms for pieces of technology.

Its coverage seems to be directed to those who actually know what a camshaft does. Sky might bring a non-specialist approach to it all, or at least employ one person who’s not all torque.

Sky’s intervention is yet another blow to the BBC’s sporting portfolio. But more damaging in my view than the reduction of its motor racing is the loss of this month’s World Athletics Championships in South Korea, which will for the first time be broadcast by Channel 4. The BBC had covered every one since the inaugural event in Helsinki in 1983.

It plugged away at the recent British track and field championships as we watched largely anonymous names taking part in Birmingham with a clearly bored Michael Johnson being asked his opinion about people he had obviously never before heard of.

Channel 4 will be delighted that he will be part of its team in Daegu when I’m sure some world-class athletes and performances will perk him up to his more usual excellent contributions. But with the Olympics fast approaching, the BBC should have gone all out to retain these championships.

The involvement in F1 since 2009 has been hugely expensive and there are those within the corporation who would have been glad to see the back of it altogether in order that there would remain enough funding to shore up other sports.

There is nothing new about other broadcasters sniping away at the BBC sport portfolio of course. I can remember a time when it lost all football for a while and, more recently, when Match of the Day went missing for three years as ITV took over the Saturday evening highlights of the Premier League. I have to admit a small involvement in that one.

This year, the BBC’s exclusivity of the Masters golf ended. Cricket has no place in its schedules or plans and its coverage of racing, while still boasting the Grand National and the Derby, has been largely denuded.

Looking on the positive side, Wimbledon, the Open and Six Nations rugby look secure for the moment and, of course, it has the Olympics in just under a year’s time, when I expect it to do a wonderful job in showcasing the BBC to the world.

Apart from its contracts being under threat, BBC Sport is, at the moment, having to contend with many of its staff being not entirely happy with the move of the department to Manchester, which is happening gradually over the next months. Today’s Football Focus will be the first of the department’s television output to be produced from there.

In a few weeks’ time Match of the Day will come from the North. Will that have any bearing on the style or content of the programme?

Well, with a presenter who hails from the Midlands and a Scot, a Geordie and a Lancastrian Irishman on the pundits’ bench, I don’t think its approach could even have been described as ‘over Metropolitan’.

By the way, this article has been ‘brilliant’.

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