SPORT ON TV: Po-faced Americans thrust into uneasy Ryder

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The Independent Online
SUBSCRIBERS TO ONdigital may have spent the weekend fuming at BSkyB's refusal to let them watch the Ryder Cup, but having a blank screen where Brookline should have been was not entirely without its advantages. For one thing, at least they didn't have to sit through Thursday evening's opening ceremony, which was such a cruel and unusual punishment that it's a wonder the Supreme Court didn't ban it.

Opening ceremonies are an inglorious business, as anyone who remembers the bouncy green plastic mutants which launched the last World Cup will testify. Yet while that spectacle was merely toe-curling, the formalities in Boston were tooth-grinding too, if only because the hosts took it all so seriously.

The Americans really should know by now that brash, rollicking and entertaining are things they do very well. Po-faced, on the other hand, they do not do well at all, except when the president's been shot. The first bad sign came early on, when it became apparent that not only were the players from each side wearing identical outfits, but so were the American women. Stranger still, while the European wives and girlfriends preferred to dress as individuals, Sergio Garcia's female companion - his mum, bless him - was in one of the American team's cream numbers. As everyone gravitated towards the main stage, it was like watching a Moonie wedding.

And just to reinforce the image, they produced a pastor, Bishop Barbara C Harris of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. "May all bogeys, birdies and eagles remind us," she said, "contestants and spectators alike, that when we gather and compete in the spirit of friendship and mutual respect, all can be winners, no matter what the score." This was a nice touch, but just like a regular wedding, the quality of the speeches deteriorated.

To their credit, several of the Europeans were trying to stifle smirks all the while. The Americans, on the other hand, lapped it all up with lips-a-trembling, or in a couple of cases, jaws-a-mashing. Steve Pate did not even stop chewing when Ben Crenshaw introduced him to the crowd. "Take the gum out of your mouth," Crenshaw said, only half in jest, as Pate sat down. Two seats along, Tiger Woods, who had been masticating like the adolescent he recently was, suddenly developed lockjaw. Gentle Ben, it seems, is more of a disciplinarian than anyone had guessed.

And so to the Cup itself, and Sky's presentation of it, which was as close as you can get to live recorded highlights. BSkyB has thrown a lot of money at the Ryder Cup, so much so that it is apparently happy to fly out Kirsty Gallacher all the way to America simply to read out the afternoon fourball line-up while everyone else is having lunch.

Ronan Rafferty was out there somewhere too, popping up when you least expected him. "Tiger's tee shot landed in someone's lap," he said at a vital moment on Friday. "Then a kiddie picked it up. But it's OK, he's going to play it from where it is." What? From the kid's pocket? Now that really would be worth a subscription to Sky Digital.

Sky's basic problem, of course, is that the commercial breaks are so frequent and so long that by the time they've caught up with what happened during the last one, it's almost time for another. Fortunately, the action is so compelling that before the opening foursomes are halfway to the first hole, it has you by the throat.

If the BBC's treatment of one of the week's other major sport stories is any guide, Sky is probably where everything belongs. The story - or should that be fable - in question was Frankie Dettori's "admission" to Newsnight (BBC2) that he took drugs to help reduce his riding weight, but this was not nearly so disturbing as the manner of its presentation.

The BBC, after all, is supposed to be the most respected news broadcaster in the world. The Newsnight item, though, involved a heavily edited interview with Dettori, full of leading questions and cut to cast him in the worst possible light. The research was so shoddy, the exaggeration so wild and the determination to get some dirt so overpowering that it would take far more space than remains here to detail the report's failings. One claim, however, probably sums it up fairly adequately. Two years ago, hundreds of jockeys were tested for weight-reducing drugs, and two were positive. Last year, it was nine. This, Newsnight said, was a rise of 350 per cent, which was strictly accurate, but also wholly disingenuous.

Jeremy Paxman, no less, parroted this "statistic" in the studio 10 minutes later (shortly before the agenda moved on to East Timor). It was perhaps the moment when BBC reporting died. They should singe one of Paxman's famously sneery eyebrows, put the ashes in an urn, and send them to Rupert Murdoch.