Sport On TV: BBC serves up dog's dinner of British failure

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The Independent Online
YOU HAVE to feel sorry for the BBC. As its crown jewels vanish into the back pockets of richer organisations, it manages to hold on to a few baubles: it gets the latter stages of the European Cup-Winners' Cup - and Chelsea reward it by playing like dogs; it gets a slice of the cricket World Cup, and England reward it by playing like dogs; it gets the French Open tennis - and Our Brave Boys respond by playing like chiens.

Meanwhile, as the world No 1 Martina Hingis was proceeding to the final, our women's No 1, Sam Smith, crashed out of a tournament in Surbiton, a million miles away from our TV screens.

Still, the non-British tennis has been of a reasonable standard, though for a telly critic there is not much to write about these days. The players are all so self-contained, focussed, tunnel-visioned, motivated - which is good for them, but less than fascinating for us. Hingis, during her semi-final win over Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, did question a line call once, amiably pointing to the offending mark in the clay. Even then, she was whistled.

So it is at times like this you're grateful for the grunters. Seles's time away from the game was clearly spent working on her grunt the way Nick Faldo reconstructed his swing. She has added a third component, a kind of pre-grunt, which surfaces at least once every game. But stick her next to men's semi-finalist Gustavo Kuerten, and she's a kitten next to a lion.

Maybe it is because he was in Paris, but the Brazilian appeared to have developed a Gallic grunt: "Horreur... Horreur... Horreur..." he went, like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now overdubbed for the French market. His conqueror, Andrei Medvedev, merely sounded as if he was straining at stool. Somebody should tell him that that's how you get varicose veins.

Bangkok Bound (C4, Wed-nesday) appeared to want to be a documentary about Westerners running away from real life. Jackie Shaw, though, was over there to further her career. And it was only a Lewis/Holyfield-style sting that prevented her from doing just that.

A kickboxing single mother from Carlisle, Shaw is clearly a deadly exponent of the 2,000-year-old martial art. She has been knocked into shape by Mike Haslam at his Dragons Gym, but she was out in Bangkok for four weeks of training and acclimatisation in the 90 degree heat. She is sponsored by Haslam at the moment, but she needs to start earning proper money.

"Me and him have some corker arguments," she said, "but he knows boxing is my life. I've been whacked and smacked and kicked, but it's all right, really."

She looks not dissimilar to Jane Couch, though without the battle scars. "I used to be a bit of a lass," she said, explaining how she got into kickboxing. "There wasn't a weekend when I wasn't getting into trouble."

By the time of the fight she was ready for action, though at the stadium the mysterious absence of a weigh-in provided cause for concern. And with good reason. "She's 65kg or more," said Shaw when her opponent appeared, "with legs like tree trunks." Her confidence was undimmed, though: "I've fought bigger lasses than that - they all go down the same way."

Despite her opponent's bulk, Shaw was a runaway winner, giving her a good going-over. The judges disagreed, however, much to the crowd's fury. She knew she had won, and she was devastated. She has only one fear, she said before the fight - losing. And after, she says, "I feel absolutely shit."

Not half as shit as I felt after watching the sporting component of h&p@bbc. (BBC1, Monday), an alleged comedy programme that has been getting later and later in the schedules - with good reason.

In a section called "Good Sports", sporting personalities answer questions of stupefying imbecility. This week, John Inverdale, John Motson and Annabel Croft were required, among other tasks, to price various items (a lip- mike, a sports bra, strawberries and cream from Wimbledon, for example), answer questions about the offside rule in hockey and, in Motson's case, give the dates of his wedding anniversary and wife's birthday.

The whole affair is clearly inspired by the daft surrealism of Reeves and Mortimer. It bears about as much relation to them, however, as this column does to TS bleedin' Eliot.