The Critic Without a Ticket: My Sepp Blatter blag fails... Now it's just me, the Beeb and a remote for two weeks
Sepp Blatter? A modern-day Titan. A man blessed with power, with authority, with… a ticket for the Olympics. And not any old ticket, either. When the Games began in Cardiff – where the hell did you expect London 2012 to open for business: London? – he was there for all to see, suited and booted in one of the Millennium Stadium's poshest seats, casting an educated eye over the women's football, a sport so close to the Fifa president's heart that he once offered it some carefully considered advice, gratis. "Let the women wear… tighter shorts," he charmingly suggested as a means of creating "a more female aesthetic".
For those of us who tried, and failed miserably, to purchase Olympic passes at the first opportunity – a combination of three-day eventing, canoeing and gals' hockey did not seem an outrageously optimistic aspiration, especially as the latter was officially declared "undersubscribed", but the application fell heavily on stony ground – the Blatter Approach must be the way forward. Want to watch something live? Abuse it first. "Do hockey skirts come with in-built cellulite?" "Can anyone name a famous canoeist who isn't Hiawatha?" Next thing you know, you'll be in the front row.
Sadly, it cannot be argued that Blatter was seated ahead of someone a little more deserving. There was plenty of room at the Millennium Stadium: enough room, just about, to house all the G4S security staff who will fail to show up for work over the next fortnight. Among the principal reasons for the wide open spaces on the opening day was that those G4S types who did appear spent the afternoon stopping ticket-holders at the turnstiles, rummaging through their groceries and confiscating their sunscreen. For the first time since Offa built his dyke, there was a threat of mass heatstroke in Wales.
So here we sit: wide-eyed and ticketless, preparing for two weeks of viewing from the sofa, with only the BBC and an endless supply of fair-trade tea for company. That and the latest edition of the blissfully entertaining Complete Book of the Olympics, brilliantly compiled by the American sports broadcaster David Wallechinsky and his nephew Jaime Loucky. There is gold in them there pages – the account of Bob Beamon's record-breaking long jump in Mexico City is in itself worth the cover price – and if there is consolation to be found in watching the action on television, it is that the 1,300-plus pages will always be within arm's reach.
As for the BBC brigade, they have a little catching up to do. This being a devoutly non-Murdochian household – no prostration before the altar of satellite television here – great faith is placed in the deeds of the corporation; indeed, there are those of us who would happily pay the licence fee for radio alone (although not, perhaps, to listen to an Alan Green commentary on the skeet shooting). Yet sins have been committed in recent weeks, for which atonement is required.
When the great Roger Federer won at Wimbledon last month, thereby equalling Pete Sampras as a seven-time champion, his on-court interview with Sue Barker began with a question about… Andy Murray. This triumph of Little Britishness, a Nigel Farage-ish slice of Anglocentricity with a Scot at the heart of it, drew a look of contempt from the determinedly expressionless Swiss master, and rightly so.
Not that it compared with the latest in a long line of what Kenneth Tynan would have called "cock-crinklingly embarrassing" interviews perpetrated by Garry Richardson, the non-thinking man's Alan Partridge, on Radio 4. Jeremy Hunt, the embattled Cabinet minister whose portfolio covers all things Olympic, was asked – no, really – whether he shouldn't simply sack those members of the Public and Commercial Services Union who had voted for an eve-of-Games strike over job cuts. "They're a disgrace, aren't they?" pressed Richardson, catching Hunt with his trousers round his ankles and in dire need of a reply that would not make him sound like Pol Pot. "I don't want to escalate things by talking about that right now," the Secretary of State eventually responded, all of a splutter.
When the Great Britain-New Zealand football match kicked off, there was more discomfort. "She won't get a better chance than that," asserted the commentator Guy Mowbray as the midfielder Anita Asante hit the post with a header. Seconds later, Asante was presented with a much better chance, quickly followed by an opportunity that was better still. Meanwhile, the coach of the men's team, Stuart Pearce, could be heard mixing his metaphors as Raymond Blanc might mix a beurre manie. "We need to hit the ground running and take it on the chin," he pronounced ahead of last night's meeting with Senegal. Quite hard to do, unless you trip over.
Could it conceivably carry on like this? Happily not. When the corporation's athletics specialists caught up with Charles van Commenee and mentioned two words – one of them "Phillips", the other "Idowu" – guaranteed to send the track and field coach's blood pressure soaring off the monitor, he offered an opinion of the maverick triple jumper without mixing anything, least of all his message. His words were carried across "all platforms", as the media jargon has it, and were compelling on each of them.
And so to tonight's opening ceremony, which may or may not rival the hideously costly Beijing extravaganza of 2008. Some of us would have liked to have been there. Any chance of two together, Sepp?
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