Is it the BBC, or is it Me? 262

I love sport, and I have been watching the World Athletics Championships. This has left me genuinely uncertain. Has BBC sports coverage always been this harshly, stridently British nationalist, and do I just notice it now as my own sensibility has changed? Or has there genuinely been a shift away from any pretence of impartiality?

Apart from analysis focusing almost entirely on the prospects of the British contender in the sport in question, we have witnessed countless field events where numerous throws and jumps of other contestants are not broadcast at all, in favour of shots of the British athlete in the event warming up, zipping their tracksuit or chatting with their coach. Other competitors’ efforts are only of interest in relation to their potential to affect the position of the British athlete, with the exception of a very few major celebrities.

It is not treated as a sporting event so much as a nationalist propaganda event. I find it repulsive to the extent that I found myself being quite pleased that “Team GB” has so far been pathetic, and each athlete the BBC hypes, proceeds immediately to fall on their arse.

I have now discovered that Eurosport, even with the English commentary, is covering the games in a much more sensible manner.

I noticed at Wimbledon what seems to be a related phenomenon. Support for the underdog appears to have disappeared. The crowd were boorish and completely one-eyed in their support for British players and for celebrities. When Gilles Muller defeated Nadal, some wonderful winning rallies by Muller at key moments were met by something short of polite applause. It was embarrassing to watch.

I do not recognise Brexit Britain as the country in which I was born and raised. The UK has become a nasty and mean-spirited place, and the sooner it is broken up the better.

262 thoughts on “Is it the BBC, or is it Me?

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  • Bert

    I think the matter is very simple: after thirty-five years of thatcherism, everyone is Gordon Gekko.

    You are a winner or you don’t matter.


  • Vronsky

    It’s not you. A better question: is it just the BBC, or is the BBC simply reflecting the Englische Zeitgeist? (apologies for the Johnny Foreigner words)

  • Jim

    Not only is it not just you, it’s not just sports. I’ve been living abroad since 2011; around the time I left, I noticed this undercurrent of British nationalism in all sort of programming, with union flags abounding and every other program having some form of the phrase “Great British” in its title. And every time I return to the UK, it seems to have worsened. It can’t be accidental.

    • Amy Wyatt

      I refuse to watch anything with “Great British” in the title which nowadays is starting to limit what programmes I can watch.

  • Amy Wyatt

    Totally agree – it’s vile to watch and has become worse over the years. The only exception to this mental nationalism is F1 where the main contender is black and doesn’t conform to the required image of a British Formula One driver to the extent that many commenters refuse to accept he’s British. This is the reason he’s the only Brit I support!

    • eddie-g

      Chris Froome is another who gets very little love.

      Last year, despite having just won the Tour de France for the 3rd time, he didn’t even make the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

      • Pyewacket

        eddie-g. Chris Froome has just won the TdF for a fourth time and Team Sky dominated the race for the whole three weeks. In addition; Simon Yates took the Best Young Rider’s White Jersey, a fantastic achievement, and Froome is currently favourite to win the Vuelta e Espana (Tour of Spain), should he succeed in this double Grand Tour win, he will have achieved something that hasn’t been done since 1998, and before that in 1978, so a very rare accomplishment, and never by a British Rider. UK Pro-cyclists punch well above their weight in the face of very stiff competition, but get hardly any coverage at all. I guess some Sports are more equal than others.

  • John Goss

    My impression is that the BBC has always been nationalist in favour of British athletes, England footballers and cricketers, and I think I can understand that. What is has become to a much stronger degree is so political it is embarrassing. Russian athletes and Olympians have been banned from competing for allegedly using drugs while our athletes and cyclists have been taking similar performance enhancements disguised as nasal sprays for asthma (seems to be the most common) and other complaints ‘legally’.

    However this nationalism has taken a nasty turn with the booing of Gaitlin after he won the 100 metres. Gaitlin is a US athlete so naturally the IAAF is not going to ban him for life. Neither do I think it should. But once he, or anyone has served a ban, and been let back into the sport he should be allowed to compete on equal terms with other athletes in his discipline. To my mind it is like an ex-convict having served his time, being persecuted after trying to go straight.

    What gets me most is the duplicity of the IAAF and the politics from which sport should be free.

    • Alasdair Macdonald

      John Goss, thank you for expressing your views regarding Mr Justin Gatlin. I agree with your view entirely. Mr Gatlin cheated, twice that we know of. He has served the sanctions imposed. If people think that more severe sanctions ought to have been imposed, then lobby the IAAF to make the change.

      Personally, I think the sanctions are of the right order. We have always got to allow for people to redeem themselves by abiding by the rules as the majority try to do.

    • Courtenay Barnett


      You very much mirror my thoughts ( see my post at 16:46).

      May I add something – ” the great Carl Lewis” was a drug cheat. I wager that if modern drug testing methods were used then Lewis would be stripped of all his medals. Last I heard he was suffering after effects of all the steroid use – having 3 times beaten the drugs rap. Likewise Flo Jo ( current women 100m world record holder) died from a heart attack – what you tend to get ( like the wrestlers all dying in their 40s) when you pump too many steroids and performance enhancing drugs in the body. Yet – double standards abound. One standard for the US; one for the UK; one for the Russians and so on. Guess no country had it more systematically organised than the East Germans.

      “Cambridge Harriers” was my track club and I was 200m champ one year for Kent. I used to train at Crystal Palace in the 1970s. If I said that I was aware of drug use back then and could name at least two British internationals who were on drugs then I might not be believed. In the news years later one was caught after the end of his career in Florida for giving drugs to those he was training. Don’t want to publish names – but it is/was a reality out there. The testing methods have become more rigorous and stringent – yet the double standard politics is played out nevertheless.

      Their drug cheats are worse than ours – so we are told and led to believe.

      Watched the 100m final and thought that Gatlin ( who I never really liked – two times drug cheat who served his time) did something phenomenal. To win at age 35 is an accomplishment in itself. While he and his American teammate beat Bolt – it is not anything near the world record, but as I said, it is an accomplishment worthy of note. Bolt was a true sportsman and gracious in defeat. Gatlin was good and great on the day and I would not have booed ( too much of a gentleman if you ask me). Find it hard to use foul language as well. So be it.
      Cheers ( and congratulations to those genuinely deserving of it).

      • Geoffrey

        It is because people like you will not expose drug cheats that they get away with it. why won’t you name them ?
        I assume the only reason the Brits aren’t labelled drug cheats is because we have developed sophisticated methods beyond the purse of Russians or others.
        I assume Mo is adrug cheat,so much circumstantial evidence plus association with known cheats.
        Why don’t the self proclaimed “clean “athletes blow the whistle on the cheats ? They must know who they are.
        Silence like yours makes them complicit don’t you think ?
        I won’t watch athletics. I thought we were better when we worse at least it meant we weren’t cheats !

    • Clydebuilt

      John, I understand your point re Gatlin, however was he still benefiting from having taken performance enhancing drugs? I’ve heard this aspect discussed and some experts think there can be a long lasting benefit.

      • John Goss

        While that may be true Clydebuilt that performance-enhancing drugs can have long-term effects I doubt they are always positive (see Courtney’s comment above). It reminds me of Tommy Simpson, top British cyclist who lived down the road from me in Harworth. He popped in too many pills and his brain was telling him he was greater than his heart could cope with.

        I mention that because Tommy was a lovely man. Like Gatlin he was an athlete. He won the school Victor Ludorum the same year that Fay Robinson won the Victrix Ludorum. Fay went on to be the head-girl of the Tiller Girls (if you remember them). It was not a bad achievement for a pit-village school. The point I make is that Tommy Simpson was a great cyclist with or without drugs. Gatlin likewise a great sprinter. It is the holier-than-thou critics who we know have never done anything bad in their lives who bring the vomit up from the stomach.

  • Mark DC

    The BBC absolutely cream themselves over the likes of Mo Farah, who was born in Somalia and doesn’t live here.

    Team GB is ethnically diverse and multucultural. Pretty much anyone can compete for Team GB if they want to, from any part of the world. That is the sort of country that the BBC wants us to be proud of – a country that isn’t Britain at all.

    • MBC

      But the British establishment have always co-opted outsiders.

      Once they’ve proven successful.

      But if unsuccessful they freeze them out.

      Hence, when a Scottish athlete wins, he’s British. If s/he fails, they’re Scottish.

    • Ian

      Twaddle. Team GB is multicultural because we are a multicultural society, with a diverse range of citizens. An excellent thing, and quite right that we celebrate it.

    • Courtenay Barnett


      So what is “Britain at all” if not a nation that went to many other nations, tribes and territories all over the world ( at least a quarter of the world) and colonised. So, is it not predictable, understandable and to some extent inevitable that those who went there find that others find themselves here (UK)? Is this not the process in play?

  • Flaminius

    Quite right about the BBC commentariat. Tennis is an egregious example. But it must be admitted that the Wimbledon crowd is very much of a piece with it. Roaring in approval of an ‘enemy’s’ unforced error is de rigueur. And the same folk think themselves the epitome of sportsmanship and support for the underdog.

  • m boyd

    Craig your spot on, The coverage has been very poor. In half of the events you struggle to get clarity as to who has won. The treatment of Gatlin was appalling too.

    Changing tack slightly, I’m always surprised the number of Jamaicans with Scottish names. A cursory check notes the prevalence of Scots in the slave trade. What i don’t understand is that it is clear that the majority of the names are Jacobite surnames, Stewarts, McDonalds, Frasers, Boyds etc. We know that the Jacobites were sold into slavery after Culloden to the West indies and i cannot accept that within 50 years the transported jacobites went from being enemies of the state to land and slave owners in the plantations as opposed to intermarriage. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between?

    • MBC

      Flora Macdonald emigrated to America after being freed from the Tower of London and granted clemency.

      During the American war of independence she took the British side and eventually re-emigrated back home to Britain. Or was it Canada, with the other loyalists?

      The Jacobites were essentially Tories. The Highlanders, small ‘c’ conservatives. And monarchists. Hence the deference to chiefs.

      Many Jacobites emigrated after the ’45 to the colonies where they defended the Crown. So I suspect many of them were slavers in Jamaica.

      Just because you’re a victim it doesn’t make you a saint. You can be a victim and an oppressor.

  • eddie-g

    I don’t think it’s just you – though as a non-Brit myself, the lack of impartiality has never been far beneath the surface. There’s a lot of partisan bias that you learn to put up with, and obviously some commentators are much better than others, but overall, I have never had too many complaints. And living now in the US, I would confidently say that British broadcasting is no worse than what I get over here, where I have learned not to expect to see coverage of SA athletes’ performances!

    I think with athletics however, the BBC especially has invested itself in garnering public support for the sport (women’s football is another big project at the moment!). They are pretty shamelessly plugging the Worlds this year as The Most Critical Event since the 2012 Olympics to ensure British interest in the sport remains high. A big part of this is the promises made to the IOC and IAAF back when London was awarded 2012; promises already broken by leasing the Olympic stadium to West Ham (and not having it as a dedicated athletics facility), and so can now only be partially met. Hence the reason for slavish coverage of British “stars”, the desperate hope that the Olympic legacy can be fulfilled on one level.

    To your point about Muller-Nadal and rooting for the underdog, here I think Britain is partly a victim of its own success. Of late, Britain has enjoyed the types of sporting successes that perhaps 15 years ago, people could only have dreamed of. Multiple Ashes wins, Wimbledon titles, a surge of Olympic medals, Tour de France wins… basically, expectations have shifted a long way. Lovable losers are no longer emblematic of the country. Success in the form of high-level performance is the benchmark. Rooting for the underdog does not have the cultural pull that it used to.

    Re. Nadal, that may also have a special case where the Wimbledon public really wanted to see Nadal go deep in the tournament for the first time in long while, maybe even face Federer in the final. That’s not an excuse for not giving Muller credit when he deserved it, but it’s hardly the first time a big crowd favorite has gotten that type of treatment.

    Not sure that I recognise this necessarily as a post-Brexit Briton symptom, but perhaps these reset expectations are part of a bigger picture. The partisanship in particular doesn’t feel all that new.

  • MBC

    Somebody posted an article on Bella some months ago, of all the TV shows that had a British theme, like Great British Bake Off. It was a staggering list. From memory, I think most were BBC programmes. It showed that the number of British themed shows had been increasing dramatically over the years.

    So I would favour the zeitgeist theory.

    Britain is becoming more insular and more obsessed with British nationality as its global significance declines.

    • m boyd

      You notice the jingoism on the shopping shelves etc. The main stream English retailers have products which are festooned with the union flag. I’m having to go to German retailers to get goods with Scottish flags on.

  • reel guid

    According to the commentators, the England womens football team – or ‘The Lionesses’ to give them their cringeworthy name – were very unlucky in being beaten 3 – 0 by The Netherlands in the Euro Championship semi-finals. I think most neutral observers would reckon the better by far team won.

    • Mark

      As a keen follower of women’s football for many years now I disagree to some extent with that comment. I don’t think the final score reflected the game at all, but would agree that the England Ladies didn’t perform to the best of their abilities.

      What really annoyed me about this coverage was how Channel 4, having won the rights to the UEFA tournament from the BBC, proceeded to fill their reporting team with former MALE footballers such as Ian Wright and Jermaine Jenas, and MALE commentators, all of whom outnumbered the female pundits (which included footballers Kelly Smith and Eni Aluko, the latter who has just been awarded £40k for her claims she was bullied out of the England squad and who’s contempt for the team was often made all too clear) and dominated the coverage. Even when they did reflect that this is a woman’s game they employed the female sports star Sam Quek who plays….yup, hockey. This was therefore one of those rare occasions when the BBC would have actually performed far far better than any other channel; their coverage of the WSL and the Women’s FA Cup final is always exemplary and is populated almost exclusively by women presenters and pundits.

      Equally irritating was the fact that you could have been forgiven for not even realising a tournament was on until the Lionesses reached the semi final. Then, virtually all the media and celebrity well wishers crawled out of the woodwork and naturally jinxed it with such attention and over exposure.It’s particularly galling to see has been ’90s male footballers pledging their support when we know full well that their generation of sportsmen looked down on, sneered and jeered the women’s game at the time. That these overpaid egotists are still getting hefty pay packets now at the expense of their female counterparts to provide punditry is nothing short of disgusting.

      But back on track (pun not intended) I absolutely loathe the BBC’s coverage of athletics. If I hear Gabby Logan mention 2012 one more time I’ll scream (it’s a common failing of all British sport punditry to continuously refer back to past glories, it happened extensively in Channel 4’s coverage of the Women’s Euro too) and don’t even start me on Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson (is he actually out of the closet yet?) The best pundit there is Michael Johnson, an American.

  • John Strover

    Thanks, Craig, for the reference to Eurosport, I’ll watch that now. You echo my thoughts about the coverage by the BBC. I don’t think we need impartiality in the sense that some emphasis on UK athletes’ achievements is OK but all the athletes who do well should get the same coverage.

  • Tony

    This sort of thing used to be very common on BBC news reporting:

    “A plane crash in Spain has killed three hundred. No Britons are involved.”

    • reel guid

      If an athlete from Iraq wins a medal at the World Championships they can have their flag held by someone from the air force that bombed their country in an illegal war of aggression.

  • Socrates MacSporran

    It is not just you Craig. Some of us were aware of this years ago, but, since the rise in pro-independence support, a lot more people have cottoned-on.

    The BBC is certainly bad, but, for sheer pro-England myopia, I think they are now a poor second to the ITV football coverage team. Might it have something to do with the amount of money they are throwing at various sports, and the need to persuade an audience to watch it?

    I recall the late Marty Feldman satarising such pro-England commentators back in the 1960s, so, it is not really a fresh phenomenon, but, maybe getting worse.

  • Steve Large

    A hangover from the over-achievement in the last 2 Olympics? When the public money dries up (and Andy Murray retires) we will return to having to politely applaud our overseas conquerers.

    • Mark

      That’s another thing that irks me, the public money, the Lotto grants etc that propels these athletes to the world stage, only for them to do their bit before retiring prematurely to pick up a heft pay packet as a BBC pundit and perform on the reality TV circuit, never once pausing to consider giving anything back to the next generation coming up. Yes, I’m looking at you Rebecca Adlington.

  • Pete

    Do other national broadcasters do the same? Recent success of ‘Team GB’ has probably allowed such nationalism to flourish after years of under performing. It will hopefully inspire younger athletes whatever their nationality. As a sports fan I am glad the BBC have hung on to some live sporting events which can be watched without the constant interruptions of adverts, especially having missed the Open this year. The BBC coverage has also given insights into other top class athletes from other countries. If it is somewhat biased in its coverage that is hardly surprising given its title! The success of young Scottish distance runners was noted during some commentary…is that a healthy promotion or further evidence of negative nationalism? Reclaiming the Union Jack for sporting achievement is much preferable to it being hi-jacked by far right political movements, para military organisations and Empire worshippers.

  • Pete

    I’ve not had a TV for ten years but the last time I watched the Olympics when it was in Athens (2004?) the BBC were very partisan and mean-spirited, I remember the marathon when Paula Radcliffe didn’t win but all the BBC attention was on her and they seemed quite irritated with the Japanese girl who won, as if she was somehow cheating or being unfair by being a better runner.

  • Jim Rodden

    It’s been this way for a while Craig, but now, due to the emboldening of the far right via brexshit, it is reaching fever pitch.We in Scotland are particularly attuned to pick up their bias due to their disgraceful partisanship before, during & since the 2014 referendum. So much so, that I for one, struggle to watch BBC news or political programmes, I try but, invariably have to turn it over due to my temper rising.

    I was also dismayed to see that the BBC showed live coverage of the orange walk in NI,if we ally that to the DUP deal with Westminster and Ruth Davidson’s shameful Ulsterisation of the GE then we can start to see why the BBCs behaviour is absolutely reprehensible. They’re playing an extremely dangerous game here,playing to the emotions of extremists can only end in tears?

  • Sharp Ears

    The BBC proudly trumpets this long list of commentators/presenters, ie natterers when there’s nothing happening. Whatever is it costing?

    There are more!

    Ennis-Hill appears in the line up. They made a lot of her receiving a retrospective gold medal for her 2011 heptathlon performance. The Russian has been disqualified. She is already coining it in a series of TV adverts for Vitality, a South African owned private health and life insurance outfit. She appears with a cute dachshund who is voiced over by Ade Edmondson.
    There is a sample ad on the link.

    The demand for dachshund puppies has soared apparently.

    • Wolsto

      While I broadly agree with the gist of Craig’s article, leave off our Jess. She’s a legend here in Sheffield, down to earth, lovely, and genuinely and positively involved in the life of the city.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Sport has become national opiates gobally now, with the USA. as expected, leading the way.

    It’s just to get you involved at the expense of what is really happening.

    Better just to junk it or watch old flicks or just fall asleep until you cannot any longer.

  • John A

    I got so sick of the BBC/ITV jingoism in football, I have supported Argentina at the World Cup ever since the 1980s when the ugly and distasteful Falklands tainted BBC spewed hatred arose. I was most amused at the outrage at ‘that’ Maradona goal, which for all its sneaky underhandedness, precluded what is perhaps the greatest World cup goal of all time by the same genius.

  • reel guid

    This is not really a British phenomenon. Like Brexit, it really emanates from England. And only the more hardline Scottish unionists buy into it.

    Scots still retain modesty towards foreign sporting opponents and refrain from nationalistic excess. For instance, when Scotland won the Davis Cup there was no obsessive waving of Saltires. Just quiet pride.

    Talking of tennis, the British Lawn Tennis Association always makes sure there are no women’s or men’s main tour events outside of the Home Counties and the English Midlands. Scotland, Wales and Northern England just get fobbed off with a few very small challenger circuit tournaments. What a great thank you from the BLTA to the wonderful efforts of the Murray family to British tennis.

  • Sharp Ears

    Warning. Do not have Radio 4 switched on next Thursday at 9.30pm. Peter Hennessy has BLiar as his guest.

    ‘You might say the same about Reflections (10 August, 9.30pm, Radio 4), the always-excellent programme wherein Peter Hennessy walks a politician back through their life and times. A short series starts this week. His guest is Tony Blair.’
    Guardian’s ‘This Week’s Best Radio’. WTF is going on? He is being rehabilitated.

    • Habbabkuk

      Also O/T

      Please make an effort to listen to Radio 4 next Thursday (the “Reflections” programme, when you will hear the country’s foremost expert on Cabinet government – Professor Lord Hennessy of Queen Mary, London – talk former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair back through his life and times. The interview of the UK’s most outstanding recent PM by a constitutional expert is likely to be fascinating and have much to offer to both the former PM’s friends and detractors.

      Not to be missed in my opinion.

  • David Crawford

    It definitely is you Craig not the BBC…how dare you! how very very dare you! The BBC is a beacon of truth and equity in a medium that is rife with half-truths and lies conjured up by anarchists and Trots who just won’t accept that they came into this world as plebs and will exit in the same manner as that is their destiny …..know your place , be a stout chappie and stop carping and get back to cleaning the toilets as me and the Bulingdon boys will want to trash them later after the champers 🙂

  • Peter Beswick

    I think Craig may be emerging from the Manoause a more rounded person. I find it refreshing and I suspect Craig is felling the antistress benefits.

    Until very recently Craig displayed a binary response to a whole host of controversies but now he’s realised one of the greatest secrets in life. He could be wrong.

    That’s not saying I / him / anybody is right or wrong it means I (etc), I think (that or you) is wrong and it gets my mad up.

    Now he can say, without any raising of Blood Pressure, “I think you are wrong, you may be right but I think you are wrong and I find you and it repulsive (what ever it is)”

    This is a sign of maturity in great thinkers but it can be a double edge sword depending how much power you are able to yield.

    And it is why there are extremes in political thinking (both right, both wrong), its why Brexit is right and wrong, and it is why England should hire some Mexicans to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall and charge the Scots for the materials and labour.

    • reel guid

      You’d have to secure the democratic approval of the Cumbrians and Northumbrians to build a wall to their south.

      Oh I forgot. This is 21st century UK and Westminster dictates.

  • Kempe

    I will admit I’ve not been watching any of the sports coverage but as a British broadcaster why shouldn’t the BBC concentrate on British athletes and support the home team? It is after all what the viewers will be most interested in and how do you think other nation’s broadcasters will be covering the event?

    • Jane

      Yes I always notice that. He should insist on them using his full name. I believe that when he receives medals at international events his full name has to be used, ( for official purposes) . But yes I have notice this childish nationalism for a few years now and it makes sporting events unwatchable.

  • Sportophobe

    Stopped watching years ago. Cannot bear to watch – for all the reasons you cite – and because you know deep down that the whole thing is a commercially-drive sham.

    Even the supposedly ‘clean’ athletes are so insufferably unidimensional and driven by greed and egotism that the whole circus is repulsive.

    And don’t even start me on the the BritNat vomitfest!

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