Corporation's stalling blamed for missed opportunity on two sporting exclusives

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The Independent Online

The BBC has lost the chance to show high-profile programmes on the tennis career of the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods, the world's best golfer.

Bureaucratic stalling means that the programmes, which would have fulfilled the promise made by Greg Dyke, the director-general, to have more black programming, will now not be screened on the BBC at all.

Their loss will embarrass the corporation, which is trying hard to reflect cultural diversity in its output.

The money for the shows would have come out of what is believed to be a £750,000 fund, earmarked by Mark Thompson, the director of television, for programming on black issues. The Independent learnt yesterday that not a penny of this has been spent.

The programmes would have been popular, mainstream broadcasting. The programme on the history of black golf, which would have included a lengthy, exclusive interview with Tiger Woods, was to have been narrated by the Hollywood actor Samuel L Jackson. He was so impressed with the idea of the programme that he had offered to narrate it for considerably less than his usual fee. It was meant to coincide with the Ryder Cup in September. That will not now be possible.

The programme on the Williams sisters was offered by an independent production company, Terry Jervis Entertainment Media, which had secured unprecedented access to the sisters and their father for a full year. That has now been sold to Channel 4.

In both cases the programme ideas went to Jane Root, the controller of BBC2, and Nicola Moody, the head of commissioning for factual programmes. But the pair stalled on making a decision, although the programmes are understood to have had the enthusiastic support of Maxine Watson, the BBC executive with special responsibility for black programming.

A producer on one of the two programmes said yesterday: "There is no point the BBC having this money available if they haven't the will to put the policy into practice."

But a BBC spokeswoman countered: "It is a mistake to read too much into the fate of individual ideas. BBC2's commitment to black programming is shown by a number of programmes we have coming up, including a documentary on The Sharp End of Racism, a programme on Islam UK, a drama with an all-black cast and Trading Races, a factual programme in which two people change skin colour."

A Channel 4 spokesman said: "We are absolutely thrilled to get a world exclusive following the Williams sisters around from spring to the end of Wimbledon. It will be transmitted shortly after the end of the Wimbledon tournament."

Senior BBC insiders said last night that the corporation would have been criticised if it had spent money on programmes about international sporting celebrities rather than about race issues in Britain.

They added that it would have been hard to have been sure of having full editorial control and said that Channel 4 had ended up "paying a fortune" for the programme on the Williams sisters.

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