BBC's Repeated Contempt For Racing

Once again the BBC has clearly illustrated the contempt in which it holds racing.

In the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year, racing was given a derisory 45 seconds, plus a surreal item on Sea The Stars by that well known racing personality Professor Robert Winston – I cannot recall the last time I saw him on a race course!!

Yet BBC Radio’s erstwhile racing correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght, says in a Twitter posting “Racing industry loves to knock this prog but decent coverage length.”

Decent length?

A 45 second summary in a two hour program – decent?

Plus a meaningless item about, arguably the greatest horse of this generation, fronted by a fertility expert with no active involvement in racing. Why couldn’t Jim McGrath have presented an item about the horse?

Even gymnastics and cycling had a greater air time in the program.

Can you imagine the outcry if Football was dismissed in such an offhand manner? There would be questions in The House.

Then there was the award itself … Ryan Giggs, in defence of his victory Lysaght says, “here is a 36 year old decent guy still playing that you cant fail to admire.”

What about AP McCoy? He has been around almost as long as Giggs, has made a greater contribution to his sport than Giggs has ever made to his, yet he never, ever makes the shortlist.

Racing on BBC Television will be almost non-existent next year as they “cherry pick” the big races, Grand National, Derby, Royal Ascot and a couple of other meetings. Remember the days when Grandstand always had racing almost every week, sometimes two meetings in an afternoon.   

It isn’t much better on BBC Radio Football, sorry Radio Five Live.

If there is a goal somewhere in some obscure game in the Blue Square Conference that will invariably take precedence over a live race commentary.

Even when there is live commentary it risks becoming a pantomime farce, literally.

BBC Radio has one of the best commentators in the business in the shape of John Hunt, yet even he ends up playing the stooge in a pantomime farce, a criminal waste of his talent.

Cast your mind back to the Friday of Royal Ascot 2009.

Instead of dedicated coverage of the Royal Meeting, coverage was interspersed with the Simon Mayo show (a broadcaster who makes no secret of his dislike of racing). On this particular afternoon he was performing a double act, in front of an audience, with some character called Mark Kermode, or listening to what he spouts he should perhaps be called Mark Commode.

Two races, the Albany and Coronation Stakes were to be broadcast during this sequence.

What happened, with both races, was that Cornelius Lysaght came up with 3 fancied horses and allocated them to the left hand, middle and right hand sections of the audience back in the studio.

They were instructed to cheer every time that horse was mentioned. During the race John Hunt would pause every time he mentioned one of these horses and they'd cut to the studio audience cheering.

Granted it was an extreme example and has, fortunately, never been repeated.

However the coverage was crass, embarrassing  and should never have been broadcast in the first place.

What were Lysaght and Hunt thinking of agreeing to take part in such a farce?

Surely they are not that desperate to get the racing broadcast that they would stoop to any level?

If I were the racing correspondent, I would have refused point blank to play along with the charade and if it meant the races not being broadcast then so be it. I would, however,  have made damned sure the public knew why the races had not been broadcast.

Even ignoring this extreme example there are still plenty of unnecessary interruptions in commentaries, especially in national hunt races, to serve as a distraction.

People generally listen to racing commentaries on the radio because they are unable to watch the race live or on television. They need the commentator to paint the picture of what is happening, developing the scene.

What they don’t want is to hear the views of Luke Harvey or anybody else, as the horses cross the Melling Roadback onto the main course at Aintree, they want to hear John Hunt describing the action.

Racing is not like football or golf, where commentators can be whimsical or engage in chit-chat. The action is relatively short and sharp and nothing should detract from the action on the track.

Since the late Peter Bromley retired the diminution of racing coverage on BBC Radio has been palpable.

No more classified racing results, no more results in sports bulletins. No more morning or evening racing bulletins.

One of the “justifications” for dropping the racing results was the information is available on Teletext or the internet. Not if you are driving and want to hear the results it isn’t!! Anyway the same argument could be applied to any sports results or sports news. Why not drop the classified football results, they are available on text and online?

I remember, a couple of years ago, when Alan Lee in The Times broke the story that BBC Radio were to drop the morning racing bulletins, it was contemptuously and arrogantly denied by John Myers in that mornings racing bulletin. Yet everything Lee predicted has come about.  

It is conspicuous that neither Clare Balding nor Cornelius Lysaght have publicly come out to criticise the BBC’s approach to racing. Perhaps they are more interested in protecting their careers than the sport they follow, only they can answer that.

Do they really think what the BBC is doing in relation to the sport is acceptable?

If so then I would respectfully suggest they should make way for others who will fight, and fight publicly, for racing to have the air time it deserves.

If they do not agree then they should have the moral courage to fight their corner and fight it publicly, they would have a great deal of support from both inside and outside the sport.

It is an absolute disgrace that the BBC is being allowed to marginalise racing, a sport which has attracted almost 5.5 million live spectators in the first 11 months of 2009.   

Had these changes been proposed under Peter Bromley's watch, the foundations of Broadcasting House would be shaking as a result of his explosive reaction. In these PC days it seems the acceptable thing is to roll over and accept the cuts.

Peter Bromley must be turning in his grave.  


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