Simon Kelner: Red-button coverage keeps us abreast of the Games

Kelner's view


A week ago, the world looked a very different place. We had no clue that The Queen was such a good sport, we feared that London would be a gridlocked nightmare, and we hadn't ever heard of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. We didn't know that swimmers wear two caps and we couldn't have imagined that the biggest scandal of the Games so far would be in women's badminton.

We are almost halfway through these Olympics, and even hardened sceptics or those with no interest in sport must have found something of delight or interest, and not just the fact that you can get from Knightsbridge to Piccadilly Circus in less than a day. For me, this has been the first red-button Olympics. Whatever we might think of the quality of the BBC coverage - thus far, I'd put Clare Balding in the gold medal position and Gabby Logan in silver - the scale of it is astounding, and no matter where you are, and what particular electronic device you may be using, you're never more than a click away from a blast of crypto-jingoistic fervour.

In common with the world's elite track athletes - not a phrase I ever expected to write - I have yet to make my appearance at the Games, but thankfully I have discovered the red button on my television, and all manner of Olympic arcanery - the stuff way below Gary Lineker's pay grade - has been brought to my sitting room. From this comfortable vantage point, I have been able to experience the archery elimination rounds, the volleyball - both the proper version and the one you play on your holidays - and the table tennis. Isn't this what the Olympic Games is supposed to be about?

Easily the most captivating event I've seen so far is the women's water polo. Now there's a sport - a rough, tough hand-to-hand combat game that is open to all shapes and sizes and combines strength, skill and skulduggery in equal measure. The match I watched - a classic encounter between Spain and the United States which ended in a 9-9 draw - had everything, including what might have been called an illegal underwater wardrobe malfunction.

This is truly a contact sport - we were told the Australian team had to send out for new swimsuits when all theirs were ripped - and the underwater camera revealed a member of the American team being manhandled, and her swimsuit grabbed so violently that her breast was exposed. "If only referees had the benefit of underwater cameras," said the commentator, deadpan, drawing a discreet veil over this unfortunate incident.

All I could think was this: what if it is being broadcast live back in America? Imagine the furore if they've not had a chance to edit out the offending piece of action. If the moral majority thought Janet Jackson caused a scene likely to corrupt the nation, what would they make of this? Luckily, an international incident was avoided because, apparently, there's no red button over there. Bring on week two!

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