Ian Burrell: Diversity won us the Olympics, but it may not be presenting them on TV

Viewpoint

Remember the 30 East End kids of all colours who flew to Singapore with David Beckham and Sir Steve Redgrave and helped to swing us the Olympics from under the noses of the French? Britain's bid to stage the 2012 Games was based in no small part on "London's unmatched cultural wealth and ethnic diversity", to use the words of that great Olympian Lord Coe.

Yet as the BBC works on finalising its presenting line-up for its biggest sporting broadcast in history, there are fears that the coverage will not reflect the global city that the IOC delegates voted for. Instead, viewers – including millions of Olympic tourists – might be tuning in to trusted stalwarts such as John Inverdale and Sue Barker. Among media workers in groups such as the Black Collective of Media in Sport (Bcoms), there is a growing resentment that "diversity" is used in marketing pitches in attempts to host prestige events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, then forgotten when it comes to reporting them. Rodney Hinds, the long-standing sports editor of The Voice, says: "The Olympics was sold on diversity, but I'm not sure we are going to see that on television, away from the athletes. It does seem to have come off the agenda."

There are deep concerns that the car-crash performance of rookie black presenter Ortis Deley on Channel 4's recent coverage of the World Athletics Championships in South Korea could scare off executives from taking risks. Deley, who was best known for co-hosting Channel 5's The Gadget Show, looked out of his depth and was mocked in headlines for having "dropped the baton". A montage of his gaffes was cruelly posted online as a "presenting masterclass". The Deley fiasco was especially tough viewing for other ethnic minority media workers hoping for a chance in front of the camera. But as one Bcoms member says, Deley wasn't solely to blame. "Why wasn't someone in his ear directing him to the next link? Why wasn't he covered with pictures when he was struggling? These things are standard in television. The problems were across the whole production process but that was never mentioned in the coverage."

Questioned on the issue, a BBC spokesman said: "We aim to ensure our teams reflect contemporary London and the wider UK in all our coverage related to London 2012 next year. We will seek to strike the right balance of experience, fresh faces, insight and enthusiasm throughout the day and from the various venues."

Diversity is increasingly treated as a historic issue. It is seen as belonging to another era, something that was dealt with in the Nineties following the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. But Hinds and other members of Bcoms point out that the British media carried a full debate on whether British sport had something to learn from the Rooney Rule, which compels teams in the American NFL to interview ethnic minority candidates for senior coaching roles. "From my viewpoint it's something that could be implemented in areas of [British] sport, including the sports media," Hinds says.

 

Lord Ouseley, the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, says that black faces are still at the margins of British sports programmes, no matter how prominent they now are on the field of play. "They are the guests or the co-presenters and not the leaders; they are seen as decorative," he says.

The peer, who chairs the football-based Kick It Out campaign, which this month is running a "One Game, One Community" initiative, says he is disappointed that Manish Bhasin, host of the BBC's coverage of the Football League, has been "pushed into a backwater" of a late-night slot. "That's out of the reach of young kids," he says. The Olympics coverage will not be at the margins of the schedule – the BBC must ensure that its presenters are a mirror of the Great Britain that was awarded the Games.

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