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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020

TV Wrap - BBC let themselves down on risible week for athletics in Doha

Seb Coe told Gabby Logan to ‘go back to Match of the Day’, but the Beeb’s coverage wasn’t nearly as harsh as it ought to have been.

Paula Radcliffe on the BBC.
Paula Radcliffe on the BBC.

TO DOHA, WHERE Seb Coe and the IAAF staged a World Championships in a stadium cooled by monstrous air conditioning fans and yet still managed to find enough shit to hit them with.

Let’s start with the BBC’s Paula Radcliffe, who showed consistency with her commitment to public defecation in letting it fall freely from her mouth when asked about the four-year ban handed to Alberto Salazar.

Alberto, stammered Paula, was guilty merely of working too hard, that he has been “very conscious of trying to find out where the limits lie” to “compete with athletes that, in his mind, in other parts of the world, are really cheating. He’s overstepped that.”

Not exactly the full-throated condemnation of a cheater, is it?

On the shitshow went, and Paula eventually tied herself up in such knots that she lost track of linear time, accusing USADA of using the banning of Salazar to save face for the recent Christian Coleman case.

That would be the Coleman case that began, um, four years after the Salazar investigation.

Alberto Salazar can do remarkable things with an individual’s times, but he has yet to alter the globe’s space-time continuum.

Of course, the BBC forgot to preface this by pointing out that Radcliffe is sponsored by Nike and is married to Mo Farah’s coach. Hey, we all forget things from time to time.

The dark cloud of Salazar’s ban hung over his many athletes at the Championships but it didn’t extend to engulf a sweltering host city.

Hence the women’s marathon was switched to almost midnight, and yet it was still run in 32-degree heat and 78% humidity. Only 40 of 68 athletes finished the race, and those who did were met with a pop-up hospital at the finishing line.

Attendances in the stadium for the early days of the Championship were pitiful, stirring up all of the atmosphere of a seance performed in a shopping centre. Things improved toward the end of the competition, when organisers bussed in some of the migrant workers who hadn’t been killed in the construction of World Cup stadia.

Seb Coe defended the decision to award the games to Doha as being within the global body’s remit to spread the sport around the world, but that’s a truth with limits far exceeded last week.

Marathons shouldn’t be run through deserts, just as Premier League football games shouldn’t be played on a lake.

“It was a challenging climate,” explained Coe. “But the reality of it is we had a medical facility which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any championship — Olympics or World Championships. I’d be surprised if you had the same facility in Tokyo. I hope they do, but this is something really special.”

imago-20190928 Desi Jisa Mokonin of Bahrain is being taken care of by medical staff after competing in women's marathon. Source: Imago/PA Images

Did it ever occur to Seb to wonder why, exactly, he had never seen the likes of these medical facilities before? Maybe, Seb, they haven’t been needed?

Besieged, Seb then went all Brexiteer on Newsnight by criticising the BBC and telling someone to go back to somewhere else.

“It’s very easy to sit there and make all sorts of Gabby Logan-type judgments over three or four days and clear off back to Match of the Day,” spat Seb.

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Logan and Michael Johnson did at least rescue a modicum of credibility for the BBC’s athletics coverage.

Logan pointedly said that “when I do go back to Match of the Day, I’ll bring the VAR back the next time” after Nick Miller’s contentious hammer throw foul while Johnson – having been caught saying Coe was “full of shit” off-air earlier in the week – gave a firm, eloquent response to Siffan Hassan’s angry interview after she won the women’s 1500m final in a record time for the championships.

“I have been clean my whole life. I work hard. It makes me so mad,” said Hassan, who just so happens to be coached by Alberto Salazar.

“People in this sport, fans of this sport are so sick and tired of drug cheats — they have had it, they have zero tolerance at this point,” replied Johnson.

If you are associated with a coach that is banned, if you miss your whereabouts filings, if you test positive or have any connection with anything dealing with doping, they are done with you. That’s just the way this is and these athletes have to understand that. You have to come clean to them about what you’ve been doing. You have to hold up your hand and say, ‘I will be tested. I understand why people are angry. I understand why people have these accusations against me’.

“Then appeal to them that you are clean and you support clean sport. Showing that anger is not going to get you anywhere and these athletes have to realise that.”

Logan mentioned immediately after the race that Hassan was coached by Salazar, which was important as that fact managed to slip the mind of the in-race commentators, Nike Ambassador Paula Radcliffe and Nike Ambassador Steve Cram.

The BBC have been hugely influential in exposing Salazar through the work of Mark Daly and the Panorama team, while their Sports Editor Dan Roan tweeted immediately after the race about Hassan’s links to Salazar, but their athletics coverage has been reticent to involve themselves in such complicated matters.

iaaf-world-athletics-championships-2019-day-six-khalifa-international-stadium Fan(s?) looks on at the 400m Men's decathlon on day six of the championships. Source: Mike Egerton

For too long the BBC athletics commentary has been happy to exult in sporting achievement as being separate to the noise surrounding it and allow the awkward questions be posed somewhere else.

That’s no longer good enough, though, because elite sport is indivisible from the world that enables it.

The peddling of sport as something separate from the world outside is what allows elite championships to be staged across deserts and in joyless, empty stadia, all in the name of reducing it to a useful tool for laundering the image of states and corporations.

Athletics, above almost any other sport, is coated in its own filth, and the only way that can be hacked away at is by holding itself to higher standards and allowing complex and awkward questions to invade the staging of the sport itself.

Is athletics and its coverage ready to commit to this kind of rigorous critique and introspection?

Consider this from a top official in 2015. “I would die in a ditch for the right of the media to question my motives, and to call to task the sport of which I am head.”

Yeah, that’s from the same guy who last week lashed out at Gabby Logan.

Good luck with that.

- Originally published at 08.33

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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