Sport on TV: It's strictly business as Olympic dreams turn to golden sequins
Sunday 30 December 2007
Darts at Alexandra "Ally Pally" Palace? Whatever next? Surely it would be a more suitable venue for 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Yet the Queen is apparently a big fan of the arrows, and Ladbrokes asked her if she would like to attend the PDC Darts Championship. Buckingham Palace could be the next step, with Phil "The Power" Taylor taking on Elizabeth "The Real Power" Windsor. But the Queen may find her crown jewels are rather outshone by the bling of her rivals.
Both darts and ballroom dancing are trying to be included in the Olympic Games and want to be taken seriously as sports. Three years ago, UK Sport recognised darts as a genuine sport. It has the second highest audience on Sky Sports after football and it has cleaned up its act since the days of boozing and smoking on the oche. Darters walk some 16 miles to and from the board during a tournament. And think of the strain on their arms, holding up all that jewellery, even if they are not lifting pints any more.
Televisual appeal is crucial. The International Olympic Committee, who renamed ballroom dancing as "dancesport", said it had to increase its audience. Yet 11 million people tuned into the BBC's 'Strictly' final last Saturday, a shade off 50 per cent of the entire share. 'The Strictly Come Dancing Story' (BBC1, Friday) told how the Beeb has sold the programme to 31 countries.
'Strictly's' Christmas Special (BBC1, Wednesday) saw the return of cricket's champion dancers Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakash. It was Gough who transformed the show as the first male winner. "I'm a Barnsley boy, the son of a miner, I've got a reputation to keep," he said, but he admitted that after his second dance, "I thought, 'This was me'. As soon as the music started, I was in my sportsman's zone".
Colin Jackson, beaten by Gough in the 2005 final, said that the ballroom was an ideal environment for sportsmen (Ramprakash beat rugby's Matt Dawson in the 2006 final). "We're used to being coached," said the Olympic hurdler. "Our brains are programmed to reproduce under pressure, that's what we do day in, day out."
The shy Ramprakash was the exact opposite of the brash Gough in terms of character. But he was a revelation on the dancefloor. His partner, Karen Hardy, said: "It allowed him to come out of who he was, and that's what dance does." It affords you the same escapism that more mainstream sports do.
So, how to convince the IOC? How to draw in even higher viewing figures? Perhaps reality TV commissioners could combine darts and ballroom. Both outfits are sequined, there's plenty of chest hair on view and Sid Waddell is always shouting: "What a big leg this is!" Dancers could shimmy up and down in front of the oche, dodging the darts, or better still, how about 'Strictly Come Darting'? After his strict dieting, Andy Fordham being swept off his feet by Disney's Hyacinth Hippo?
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