Sport On TV: Lazy ways of summer to bewitching days of Ali

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"I DON'T answer questions," Rosie, the ethereal ladette in My Summer With Des (BBC1), insisted repeatedly. Which was rather a shame, because several very good ones came to mind during the opening 20 minutes of the BBC's bank holiday "comedy-drama". For instance, did anyone find it either dramatic or amusing? And is Neil Morrissey really as one-dimensional an actor as he appears, or was his brain simply on a go-slow because the script had given him lead poisoning? Most of all, was it possible that this brazen and slovenly attempt to cash in on the World Cup came from the same pen that gave us An Evening With Gary Lineker?

It would seem so, and you can only suppose that the actual drama involved was a real-life nailbiter called An Evening With A Deadline, starring Arthur Smith and a blank sheet of paper. The thinking behind My Summer With Des seems to have been that viewers will swallow anything, even themes, characters and devices which would not stand scrutiny in a 12- year-old's English homework, so long as you lash it all together with a bit of footie.

And who knows, perhaps they are right. ITV, after all, served up its own insult to the intelligence on Tuesday, in the shape of The Truth About Footballers. The difference here, though, is that this was merely the latest cheap-rate schedule filler from the people who made The Truth About Hollywood, Women and So On (everything, in fact, except The Truth About How They Manage To Get Away With It). No one will have expected anything more than a trawl through Max Clifford's B-list to see who was available for a chat (everyone, presumably), and so no one can have been disappointed at the result.

The BBC, however, can offer no such excuse, and it is hard to credit the laziness of a production which must have accounted for several thousand licence fees. A bit of football and a bit of the other, some cod philosophy and a few snatches of Des at opportune moments. Oh, and David Seaman popped up at the end (and his acting was only marginally worse than that of Morrissey, who could not even bring off a convincing celebration when Shearer scored against Switzerland). Thank you for being patronised, and good night.

If what had gone before had been even faintly involving, rather than an assortment of Men Behaving Badly out-takes mixed with menopausal male wish-fulfilment, this next and final point would seem like the height of pedantry. If only to emphasise the overall shoddiness of My Summer With Des, however, it is worth noting that the denouement, in which Morrissey's character cleaned up after backing Rosie's prediction for the final, was as sloppy as the previous 100 minutes. Had you indeed staked a fortune on Germany to win 2-1, with Berger scoring first, your money would have stayed in the betting shop, because the odds are laid on the score after 90 minutes.

The worst thought of all, however, was that by lending not only his name, but also a brief physical presence to such nonsense, Des Lynam might have sent out the first faint signal that he is beginning to lose it. Thankfully, though, he had anchored Ali Night (BBC2) just 24 hours earlier, to reassure everyone that his faculties are still intact.

What would the sporting world give for the same to be true of Ali himself. The ghost at this celebration was a reminder of his mute and trembling appearance during the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics, and the image was as affecting as any of the bewitching charisma from the 1960s, which still has the power to intoxicate at 30 years' distance. "The greatest sporting icon of the century," Lynam called him, and for those, perhaps half of the audience or more, who were not around for the glorious carnival of Ali's finest years, the evening was all the evidence they could require. These days, boxing - indeed every high-profile sport - sprouts dozens of lippy wannabees every month. Ali was the first, and probably last, genuine article.

But a lot of good it did him. Before his final fight with Larry Holmes, according to his biographer, the Nevada authorities were aware of a medical report which indicated that when he was asked to touch his nose with his index finger, Ali missed by several inches. Already, his speech was noticeably slurred. And yet there was too much at stake for him to do anything other than climb into the ring and take another beating.

This final film of the evening asked if - and by whom - he was allowed to go several fights too far. Some of the prime suspects were conspicuously keen to point out that these days Ali has "a serenity of spirit", and that he is "a happy individual" who realises that he "got that way for a reason". You could only hope that their desperate attempts at self-justification were evidence of some genuine and nagging guilt. Conscience, though, does not seem to be a concept which boxing will ever understand.

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