Why Glasgow 2014 proves that the BBC should bring back Grandstand
The Commonwealth Games showed that Brits will watch pretty much anything as long as there's a ball or a line to cross. So why can't we watch these sports more often?
First things first: this isn’t a nostalgia cry for the twinkling fanfare of the Grandstand theme. Nor is it a call to get more football/tennis/cricket etc back on terrestrial TV. Have you seen Sky or BT Sport recently? Their football coverage has more tone than a Tom Daley torso.
No, this is much more simple: Glasgow 2014, like London 2012 before it, has shown that there’s an audience out there willing to watch any old game, as long as there’s someone to tell us why we should be excited and hold our hand through the complicated bits. Grandstand used to do that week after week. Now we need it back.
The man to blow the final whistle on Grandstand in 2006 was one Roger Mosey. The former director of BBC Sport, who would go on to direct the Corporation’s coverage of London 2012, said when he left the BBC in 2013: “Grandstand was unloved and the audience was really diminishing.”
The reason for its axing, Mosey suggested, was that, “Audiences just didn't go to 15 minutes of golf, 30 minutes of horseracing, 20 minutes of basketball any more. They expected something live and continuous.”
Hang on. Isn't that exactly what we've been doing for the past 11 days? Hampden Park and Usain Bolt provided the centrepiece, but we were more than happy to flit from bowls to badminton via mountain bikes and back again.
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It was the choice that kept people interested, coupled with the knowledge that even if we were watching something pretty boring (sorry lawn bowls), it probably wouldn’t be on for long. Most people don’t want to watch every dive in the men’s synchronised 3m springboard, but those who did could follow it online, while the rest of us could check in, cheer the winner, gasp at the belly flop, and move on.
What next? Only five minutes of the women’s trap shooting! Brilliant. After that, I don’t know, the tiddlywinks team finals and mixed doubles beard trimming. I might have dozed off somewhere at that point, but would wake up again just in time to hear Gary Lineker saying we were off to the velodrome for the men’s keirin cycling (you know, the one with the tiny moped shepherding riders in a cycling version of One Man and His Dog).
Sport was what I came for, and sport was what I was given, in varying degrees of tension, detail and comprehension.
The sad thing is: now I want more. I want more stories of swimmers celebrating with Irn Bru; more squash matches in glass boxes; more vicious shoves on hard netball courts.
It’s not like there isn’t space in the schedules. You’d think that after 11 solid days of Commonwealth Games it would be about time to go easy on the "minority" sports, but this Sunday BBC1 will be showing four-and-a-half hours of cycling through the streets of London.
Even after the return of Premier League regulars Football Focus and Match of the Day on Saturday 16 August, there’s still room that weekend for the BBC to cover both European Championships athletics and the Equestrian Global Champions Tour.
It all seems too partitioned, too pigeon-holed. Now, if I could switch effortlessly from Jose Mourinho bleating about the new season to Clare Balding galumphing over the fences at Horse Guards Parade – preferably combined into one tear-streaked, Elbow-accompanied BBC Sport montage – that would be an afternoon to stay in for.