Sport on TV: Promoting the grey area of black powerlessness

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The Independent Online
There can be no doubt about the enduring image of the sporting week, nor its message. When Mike Tyson pretended to gnaw his wife's ear before his licence hearing in Nevada, as shown on the News At Ten (ITV) and everywhere else, the mess of loose connections inside the former champion's head could hardly have been more obvious had ITN frozen the footage, sounded a klaxon and flashed "BONKERS! BONKERS!" over the top of it in big red letters.

Various promoters, of course, probably loved every minute of it, but then as Frank Bruno pointed out in this week's Black Britain (BBC2), you have to be "a ruthless so-and-so" to stand a chance in that line of work. Or to be more precise, a ruthless white so-and-so, in Britain at least. The programme estimated that only eight of the 200 or so promoters licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control are black, which is not far from being a mirror image of the racial balance on the painful side of the ropes, and tried to find out why.

Frank Maloney offered one solution. "Maybe they're better at fighting and us white guys are better at promoting," he said, an opinion which he may care to share with Don King the next time he bumps into him. Or then again, maybe not. But if Black Britain was trying to find hard evidence of racism in the boxing hierarchy, little emerged.

True, Colin McMillan encountered some strange hypothetical questions at a hearing to consider his application for a promoter's licence, such as whether he would be able to treat a bad cut if a boxer's trainer was taken ill during a fight. Yet the complaint of Anthony Gee, one of the few black promoters, that "I could have made several major signings if I was connected to a TV company that was willing to bankroll me", would surely be echoed by most of his white colleagues.

The real problem seemed to be that there is little or no scope for upward mobility among boxing promoters. There are two or three main men who guard their TV contracts fiercely and give no one else, black or white, a look-in. Like any oligarchy, it benefits only those with access to power, and it is probably one reason why truly competitive championship boxing is now such a rare commodity.

Rare, but not quite extinct, as Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield now seem sure to demonstrate at Madison Square Garden in March. Lewis appeared on TFI Friday (C4) to tell Chris Evans that a deal with Holyfield had finally been sealed, and things can only get harder from here on in. In the space of five minutes' gentle sparring, his bespectacled opponent, fighting out of the ginger corner, did not throw even the gentlest of verbal jabs, and even lightweight stuff now seems beyond him.

Still, this was as nothing compared to the air-cushioned ride which Evans gave Bryan Robson a few minutes later. When an interview starts with the words "he's a hero, Bryan Robson, he's a hero everyone," - well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. But then again, Evans could hardly take the chance that Robson might respond with a difficult question or two of his own. Such as: "Do you not feel even the slightest responsibility for this trough of despair from which one of my most expensive players is currently trying to extract himself?"

It would probably be foolish to expect anything more in an age when television and sporting personalities are so closely entwined that the backscratching is both mutual and incessant. It is all so anodyne that it was almost possible to end up rooting for Geoff Boycott, another sporting figure who made it into the main section of the news programmes. Almost being the operative word.

It was certainly entertaining, though, to see Boycott stood outside the French court inside which he had been closeted until the small hours of the night, and all the more so when he started to complain about the proceedings being conducted in French. The implication was that the judge, lawyers, clerks and recorders should all have used a foreign language, one that at least some of them probably did not understand, just for his benefit. Only a Yorkshireman...

For sheer surrealism, though, nothing this week could match the moment when a director of Norwich Football Club tried to teach the nation how to make perfect toast. According to Delia Smith (BBC2) - for it was she - it is necessary to use a grill, which must be pre-heated for 10 minutes before the bread goes anywhere near it.

Ten minutes? Not unless you want to enjoy your toast as firemen try to dampen down the smouldering rubble around you. Some advice for whoever insures Carrow Road - hike those premiums, and fast.