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Giles Coren: Should a restaurant critic who finds the theatre stressful be reviewing it? (©BBC)


If broadcasters covered sport the way they cover the arts and politics, you would hear Test Match Special stop as Geoffrey Boycott explained that mid-off “is to the left of the bowler’s run-up, assuming the the batsman is right-handed”. Gary Lineker would tell Match of the Day viewers they could be forgiven for thinking sweepers swept the pitch to keep a level playing field, but as it happens . . .

If broadcasters covered sport the way they cover the arts and politics, Sky and the BBC would tire of explanations and decide that “elitist” language must go. For was it not exclusionary to expect ordinary hard-working people to learn the difference between square leg and third man, wing-back and wide midfield? Far more inclusive to use a clock face and say Root hit the ball to two o’clock or chipped it over the fielder at five o’clock. Martina Navratilova’s producers would instruct her to explain that 15-love meant Venus Williams was 1-0 up, 40-15 was 3-1, and deuce meant the game was tied.

If broadcasters treated sport the way they treat the arts and politics, Boycott, Lineker and Navratilova would be out of work. For their insistence that viewers grasp the basics of the sport before they watch is not just elitist and exclusionary but snobbish when you think about it. By what right do they assume everyone shares their privileged background? Would it not be better if Sky and the BBC hired presenters who knew little about sport and cared less? Then Match of the Day could reach out and cover subjects that would draw in new audiences: cookery, perhaps, or computer games; so much more exciting than sticking with the same old, same old.

If broadcasters have any sense — a debatable proposition, as we shall see — they will leave sports coverage as it is. Radio 4’s Today programme and Front Row on BBC2 have both tried to reach out and the result has been grindingly dull and morally objectionable journalism.

The presenters of Front Row, the only arts magazine programme on the whole of BBC television, began their new assignments by announcing they could not be bothered with theatre. Giles Coren, a restaurant critic, says he finds plays too stressful and the seats too uncomfortable and has barely been to the theatre in years. No matter, he still got the job. Amol Rajan, the BBC’s media editor, rather than, oh I don’t know, its arts editor, said he was too busy with his baby to go. Poor man. But if Boycott could not attend Test matches, he would be out. The only half-qualified presenter was Nikki Bedi, who at least presented an arts programme on the BBC World Service. Unfortunately, she has produced no criticism worth remembering, and declared that she had no time for “long shows without intervals”.

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