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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be much appreciated if the British Broadcasting Corporation would get on with their sacred duty to bring to us the sight and sound of a healthy and invigorating ration of sport without continually bleating about their rivals and generally buggering around with the service.

We recognise that the corporation is bristling with new brooms anxious to make their mark but there are disturbing signs that any priority sport enjoyed is being swept aside. The announcement last week that sport on radio will from next April have to compete for its air time on a 24-hour news channel brings no comfort to those suspicious of the new management's attitude to sporting listeners.

Last weekend the BBC made much of the 35th anniversary of Grandstand, but since when was 35 a significant birthday? Perhaps they felt it might not be around for its 40th, or was it that this was an opportune time to remind us of what a good job they've done on our behalf through the years?

Without doubt, the BBC have led the world in sports broadcasting in sound and vision and Grandstand has been rightly praised for the technical expertise it introduced into the medium and for the high standards it has consistently fed to us via a succession of highly professional presenters.

If it is possible to find fault with the corporation's general sporting philosophy it has been in an editorial approach that brought blandness with the brilliance and, apart from one or two recent programmes, a less than inquiring and questioning mind and a lack of urgency to give a regular service.

It is an attitude, allied to a reluctance to spend money, that has cost them several events to which they believed they had an everlasting right. Why shouldn't the sports sell their best events to the highest bidder or, at least, to channels who will commit themselves to a wider coverage?

The BBC's weakness has been a tendency not to cover sport as sport but to cover sporting events as drama. Through the years they've covered Wimbledon brilliantly, but they haven't covered tennis. We never saw the US Open, for instance, until satellite.

The same applies to cricket - saturation coverage of a Test series in England, but a blank screen when the Test action moved to somewhere like the West Indies. They have covered rugby internationals superbly but they had to be bullied by the RFU into covering club rugby in more than an off-hand manner and still might lose what has been part of Grandstand's winter backbone.

You could say the same for golf, another sport in which their coverage is unsurpassablebut is gradually being wheedled from them by those able to offer a lot more cash and coverage.

They cannot stand back and merely complain that major events ought to be saved for the nation. The nation employs them to make a better job of keeping these events.

We can be a little more relaxed about the threat to the excellent work being done by Radio 5's sports team. The BBC's determination to run a 24-hour news service that no one seems to want has led to the feared annexation of Radio 5 but I understand that lobbying has caused a softening in the demands news will be making on prime sports time.

We will see. I never met a news desk yet that could be trusted with a good sports story.

PARLIAMENT should ban England from playing football matches abroad for the next three years - a gesture not only grand enough to impress the world but likely to save the nation any more embarrassment both on and off foreign fields while we work out what the hell to do next.

Unfortunately, the wretched team have a fixture to fulfil in San Marino next month but if we allow any supporters to accompany them, John Major, or preferably Michael Howard, should be arrested by the United Nations.

For more than 20 years we have been wringingour hands in apologetic anguish on the many occasions that English hooligans have shamed us abroad; and then have taken no effective steps to stop them. From Agincourt to D- Day, we've been sending young men on aggressive adventures across the channel but even though dishonour is now the only result we don't seem to be able to get out of the habit.

The least the government can do is to stop it forthwith. And they can do so with the minimum of inconvenience because there is no need for the England team to leave these shores during the next three years. As hosts of the 1996 European Championships, the English qualify automatically. They could invite the finest teams in the world to play friendlies at Wembley while the new manager of England, God help him, attempts to mould a decent side away from the demands of competitive matches.

By the time thequalifying rounds of the 1998 World Cup come around, England might have a team more suited to the requirements of major championships. In the meantime the country can get their international kicks from the Premier League clubs involved in the various European competitions which, in any case, have always been our more reliable sources of international success.

Meanwhile, three years should be enough time even for our slow-reacting leaders to concentrate on the less difficult task of devising a way of keeping our troublemakers at home.

AMID the surfeit of boxing ballyhoo we've suffered recently was the barely noticed but encouraging formation of the Professional Boxers' Association.

It is remarkable that an association can be formed among men whose prime purpose in life is to hit each other but, since theirenemies in the ring are nothing to those outside, it is a very sensible move.

There are a number of articulate boxers at work, Colin McMillan and Nicky Piper are but two, and there is such a lot they can achieve if they stick together. They can put a curb on the excesses of their managers for start.

'After all,' said one of the boxers, 'we employ the managers, they don't employ us.' I'd never thought of that.

(Photograph omitted)

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