“Inside Sport” is the name and taking the viewer there is, you’d presume, the premise. Why then, after Monday evening’s helping of the BBC TV sports magazine show hosted by Gabby Logan, could I not help feeling that a huge opportunity had been lost to shed some genuine light on the problem of doping in cycling for the benefit of a mainstream audience?
First of all, there was the choice of journalist: I’ve long since given up hope of the BBC realising that former athletes don’t necessarily make the best reporters, but it still jarred to hear four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent grilling UCI president Pat McQuaid (watch here) about cycling’s poor record on doping. Pinsent, lest us forget, was once coached by Jürgen Gröbler. Now check this (BBC) link and see why I have just a tiny problem with Pinsent harumphing about how cheats are never welcomed back into rowing. Need I then go on to mention that, as its chief executive Matt Smith confirmed to me today, rowing’s international governing body FISA has never seen fit to submit its athletes to haematocrit tests, that rowing also has its fair share of scandals, or that a raft (excuse the pun) of very effective doping products are still undetectable?
But that’s not the point and anyway, two wrongs don’t make a right. What really aggrieved me was the triviality of the seven-minute report, and the lack of any obvious desire to explore the complexities of the issue. Sadly, it’s in large part the fault of the BBC that the general British public’s understanding of doping pretty much starts and ends with “drugs are bad, tests catch cheats, cyclists fail tests, therefore cycling is very bad”. One of the world’s foremost experts on doping, the Italian Dario D’Ottavio, told me last year that one of the biggest obstacles to the war on doping was journalists’ lack of specialist knowledge on the topic, and the effect that this has on their reporting of the issue. I’m sure that even my magazine isn’t entirely innocent of the charge, but the BBC’s lack of appetite for intelligent debate on the subject of drugs in sport is consistently shocking. It says it all that, whereas most slots on Logan’s programme end with a short studio discussion, on Monday night she mumbled something about “candid” quotes from David Millar then moved swiftly on to the next item.
Pinsent, poor chap, can’t really be blamed. His cameo was barely long enough for him to lumber in and out of a T-Mobile team bus, and we can hardly expect him to highlight the brutal truth of the matter, namely that doping is a plague which has been ravaging all reaches of professional sport for decades. Nor can we expect him to break the news to the armchair fan that no athlete, however many Olympic medals they’ve won, however many blood or urine tests they’ve passed, is completely above suspicion.
It’s unfortunate that in failing to pull the wool out of people’s eyes on the issue of drugs in sport, he and the BBC are not fulfilling the ‘inform’ and ‘educate’ elements of the Corporation’s mission statement. Worse than that, I can’t help feeling that they’re delaying the inevitable – a doping cataclysm which will catch everyone unawares, more than likely at next year’s Beijing Olympics.
Just as long as we don’t get a gurgling Sally Gunnell dispatched to ask whichever British athlete has missed/failed/fudged a test, “How did it feel?”.