Matt Butler: Please, next year, give us some relief from the overdose of wackiness

View From The Sofa: Sport Relief/Match of the Day BBC 1

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The Independent Online

Let’s hope you’ve eaten, because here’s an image: Andrew Flintoff in beer-pot-hugging, every-sin-revealing, nothing-left-to-the-imagination lycra. The reason for this retina-searing sight was that the former cricketer was racing in the Olympic Park velodrome in aid of Sport Relief. He fell off, but still managed to beat a gamut of radio and TV faces – and at the same time underlined all that is wrong about the annual fund-raising jamboree.

Few would deny that BBC1’s six-hour takeover of Friday night’s TV is for a good cause, but why does Sport Relief have to be so arbitrarily wacky? Gary Lineker and David Walliams being faux flirty wacky. Geoff Hurst dancing with Eliza Doolittle wacky. Does Britain love wacky that much?

Five seconds of watching David Tennant interview child orphans who scavenge among steaming piles of rubbish in Sierra Leone to subsist no doubt left anybody with a heart in bits – and reaching for the phone to donate. But then it was straight into a special edition of Strictly Come Dancing, featuring Paralympians.

And guess what? As Flintoff had already shown, watching sportspeople do things they are patently hopeless at doesn’t inspire us to dig deep. And there was more holiday camp entertainment to come – with emphasis on the camp.

We were treated to Lord Sebastian Coe doing rhythmic gymnastics, while David Beckham did his Roger Bannister impression (no running, but he was wooden, so he was halfway there) on a special episode of Only Fools and Horses.

The TV and radio people who put themselves through hell for Sport Relief are immune to criticism. Jo Whiley, the Radio 2 DJ, walking and running for 26 hours on a treadmill was jaw-dropping, while Davina McCall’s cycle, swim and run from Edinburgh to London was similarly inspiring. But something dies inside us all when we watch Coe fail to grasp the basics of ribbon waving.

Russell Brand’s guest appearance on Saturday’s Match of the Day, also as part of Sport Relief’s festivities, was similarly painful.

Yes, the loquacious (his word) comedian used words like “belligerence” when picking apart West Ham’s loss to Manchester United, but his nervousness and attempts to be all punditty skewered anything supposed to be funny.

Brand self-consciously stumbled his way through semi-gags linking the bald referee to Phil Mitchell, the EastEnders villain, as he dissected Wayne Rooney’s 50-yard wonder goal for United. Alan Shearer piping up with an opinion was almost welcome.

So here’s a plea for the next Sport Relief. Let’s have either sportspeople doing something they are good at, or normal, if famous, folk doing something incredible – swimming round the Isle of Wight, doing laps of the Large Hadron Collider, that sort of thing.

It would make for a decent spectacle and there would be no need to suffer the wackiness. Or witness rotund ex-cricketers in skin-hugging gear. Now that would be a relief.