Matt Butler: Beeb snubs medallists and rides equality out of town

View From the Sofa: There was not a single woman among the riders

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Remember Norm from Cheers? He was the rotund semi-alcoholic who uttered the immortal line: “Women, eh? Can’t live with them … and pass the beer nuts.” Oh to be a fly on the wall if he ever met Chrissie Wellington, the multiple ironman world champion.

Wellington has retired from her chosen brutal sport, but has become the face of the fast-growing movement, for which 88,000 people have signed a petition, to include women in the Tour de France.

But the weekend’s cycling action on the BBC showed just what she must come up against, with the broadcasting of Ride London yesterday evening. The eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed that the elite race was rather testicular. In fact, there was not a single woman among the riders.

Of course, there were many females in the “fun ride” event – as much as riding 100 miles through London, over the Surrey Hills and back again can be classed as fun – but the elite women riders, which included the Olympic gold medal-winning trio of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, along with the world champion Elinor Barker, were confined to a criterium race around a 1.3-mile circuit in central London on Saturday evening.

As Norm from Cheers might say, can’t let them loose on the open road, can we? They may get lost and be unable to find their way back to the kitchen.

Given that the women were merely handed a Saturday afternoon London loop to contend with, the least Auntie could have done was broadcast the darn thing live. But no, the BBC snubbed that too.

Why? Who knows? The usual arguments trotted out about the lack of coverage of women in sport – not as exciting as the men, they are not as skilled – did not apply. Because whether a rider honed to racing perfection has boobies or balls makes little difference to viewers.

OK, in the interests of equality, Saturday’s sporting action on the Beeb did include the third round of the women’s British Open but, as it is possible to play golf at the highest level while smoking a cigarette, it must be placed on the outer limits of what could be classed as sport. There was also World Championship swimming, but there was not much in the way of medals from Barcelona.

When we should have been building up to the criterium race, we did get Jason Mohammad’s debut on Final Score. Mohammad is one of the beneficiaries of the BBC’s shake-up of football coverage,  unlike Mark Lawrenson, who has inexplicably been given a “reduced” role on Match of the Day while Alans Shearer and Hansen  retain their jobs.

Mohammad slipped into the role with such ease that it took 10 reporters updating scores before one – Jacqui Oatley – actually gave him a welcome to the hot seat.

Final Score is the anti-Soccer Saturday, the blokey, shouty show on Sky Sports News where watching men watch football has become a national institution. The Beeb’s version is far more traditional: cross to reporter at ground, speak in studio about key player at said game, then move to next match. Mohammad’s cohorts, Steve Claridge and Kevin Kilbane, did their best not to be  controversial, even when discussing Joey Barton.

“He’s an, um... ahh... how should I put this...?” Kilbane said. “He’s a... well... temperamental player.” You don’t say. Insight like that made viewers pine for more nail-biting  action. Like a bunch of women cycling around London for instance.