Sport on TV: It's pay dirt time: speedway is in danger of going to the dogs

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The Independent Online

Watching speedway, it can seem as if you have been transported into a Philip K Dick science fiction fantasy of mechanical greyhounds on heat haring around sniffing each other's nether regions. Like a night at the dogs, down at the same sort of dirt track, it has a mass appeal which is not remotely reflected in the column inch devoted to it.

But speedway has gone all Hollywood. The glamour levels are rising, trying to hoist the sport out of the dirt, dust it down and apply a bit of spit and polish amid all the spit and sawdust. It is to be hoped that the grass roots don't wither as the upper branches overreach themselves.

As with football it's all about Europe now. The British Final (Sky Sports 1, Wednesday) was once the showcase of native talent, but like the FA Cup final it has been marginalised in favour of the grand prix scene, the Champions' League of the dirt track. The big prize is not the cup but a place at next month's British Grand Prix in the Millennium Stadium. Poole's sparse arena is on the other side of the track.

The razzmatazz of the Grand Prix was advertised at every opportunity, detracting from the white-knuckle riding on display. The trailer featured the lyrics "Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air", but surely that would be a very bad idea if you're hurtling around with your handlebars at right angles to the direction you're going in.

At Poole, the outside studio consisted of a block of MDF, about two foot by three, balanced on its side to display the logo. It was as if the presenters, Kelvin Tatum and Nigel Pearson, were halfway through some DIY job and their labours had been diverted by a fleet of very loud lawn mowers in the next-door neighbours' garden.

The sport retains a pleasant, domestic feel with the racers congratulating each other in the locker room. Quite a lot of them are related to each other. It's as if little Johnny got his first bike and then all his brothers wanted one too. But you can't really start out with stabilisers because it would be really hard to go round corners. And then you don't get very far in speedway. A corner is being turned, but can the sport retain its stability?

* Where on earth did Tim Shaw find his rugby buddies? In Extreme Male Beauty (Channel 4, Thursday) he and the guys in the London Welsh dressing-room sit around in only their shorts and discuss penis enhancement, love handles and how they would definitely consider surgery if they woke up to find they had a double chin. Surely Shaw would be on the receiving end of a double chinning if he was to ask how small someone's manhood was in most rugby clubs.

Perhaps the fact is that the other meaning of manhood has changed, and the nation's sportsmen have WAG envy. They just want to sit around and talk about their tackle.

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