Labour pains and fabulous collapsing legs

Sport on TV
Click to follow
The Independent Online
LAST week's Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party (BBC and ITV) attempted to assess the state of the nation in footballing terms. The verdict, that the economy is as sick as a parrot, was predictable, but the metaphor was most diverting.

The present Britain team, the argument ran, was not playing as a unit. The manager, a grey, bespectacled figure, was lavishing his money and attention on one or two glamorous strikers and neglecting the rest of the team. The result: tactical confusion and humiliating defeat. The inspiration here was clearly Tottenham Hotspur in the Ardiles era.

Under new management (a dashing young man with dark hair and a face like a gerbil, you know the one), the squad will be broadened, and all sorts of people will be included, regardless of age, background or ability. All will benefit from generous spending, and life will be lovely. The message was clear: Vote for Barry Fry.

Ironically, the viewers at whom the broadcast was addressed will all have been watching sport on satellite channels, which in itself is a more powerful indictment of the present administration than Labour's clumping satire.

Tomorrow's World (BBC1) travelled to Atlanta to find out how the city will cope when the crowds descend for the Olympics, and discovered that transport policy has been conceived with a free-market philosophy that would make the most ardent Tory blush.

Inspired - in a distinctly unseemly manner - by Operation Desert Storm, the city plans a system of helicopter bases linked by Global Positioning satellites which will mean, according to the presenter Howard Stableford: "that no business will have to wait more than 20 minutes for a chopper service".

Those without platinum credit cards will have to rely instead on the city's road network. This has been improved: 400 traffic lights and 190 miles of optical fibre have been laid, at a cost of $140m. But there is a snag: the system won't work. So if you want to get around the Games and you are not a millionaire, you are going to have to walk. Or, as Major Jon Gordon of the Atlanta police straightforwardly put it: "The primary transportation means inside downtown I think is going to be your two feet."

Not everyone in Atlanta will have two feet. Or even two legs. Al Mead has only one, but that won't stop him attempting to gain a second gold medal in the long jump at the Paralympics.

"Strength alone isn't going to take me back to gold," Mead revealed. "1996 is going to be the year of technology for sure." Paralympic sport has become the interface between grand prix motor racing and athletics. As Mead spoke, a prosthetics expert, Larry Rice, tinkered with the spring- loaded hydraulic unit on his artificial leg - not so much Long John Silver as Long John Titanium.

Rice, an awesomely determined figure, described how an earlier, more basic, leg had let him down in a game of American Football. "I had the ball and I was going toward the goal-line," he recalled, "when my leg fell apart." Remember Rice the next time you hear a Premiership striker attribute a bad miss to a tight hamstring. He scored the touchdown.

Next up was an item on drug testing. The latest hot thing in illicit muscle formation is a substance called Human Growth Factor. At the moment, officials cannot detect HGF. Stableford cornered Dr Joseph Miceli, of Morehouse Medical School, and asked him how much progress had been made in developing an effective test. The answer was "Zilcho". Tomorrow's world will be a cheat's paradise.

No such worries in the exciting world of base jumping: why concern yourself with who is popping what when the sport itself is illegal?

Base jumping, the subject of Thursday's They Who Dare (BBC2) is the understandably minority pastime of plunging from very tall buildings. Parachutes are allowed, which explains why the game is not more minority still. The Englishman Carl Newton and American Mark Hewitt, a veteran of nearly 700 leaps, were the heroes of the show.

The lads warmed up with a real softies' jump - 1,195ft off a radio mast. They then proceeded, via a leap off the world's highest bridge, to Chicago, which, with its proliferation of skyscrapers, is Hog Heaven for base jumpers.

Half the fun of base jumping (if "fun" is the word we're looking for here) is not getting caught. So Carl and Mark disguised themselves as businessmen to sneak into tower blocks before creeping up on to the roof and donning their chutes. But there was no disguising their intention once they are in the air, and the programme's best moments were their gentle descents intercut with the unsuccessful efforts of flabby Windy City flatfoots to reach their intended touchdown points.

Falling, tumbling, plummeting . . . Tony Blair might like to consider base jumping as a metaphor for his next attack on the Government.