The BBC, Boat Races, and the ‘Bastard’ (if you ask the Beeb) in the River.

I forget, is it against the law in Britain to hate rowing? Well it often feels that way, especially if you rely on the BBC for any of your day to day news coverage. I’ve never fully understood the appeal. Oh the physical endeavour is impressive enough, rowing, at the sort of speeds and the distances involved is not something to be sniffed at, mores the point, professional rowers tend to be monsters and individuals best not to be taunted regarding their sport. But when it comes to a visual spectacle, well, it’s like watching long distances running – repetitive and largely incident free. Well, whatever your position might be, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that rowing is a bit of a television sporting obsession with the BBC, and as a result, it is perceived to be a television sporting obsession with the nation as well.

This could not have been illustrated better than the news coverage offered by BBC Breakfast today. Repeatedly and in increasing detail, we heard more and more about a savage, wretched little man, who dared to disrupt the great ‘British’ tradition of the ‘Boat Race’. For those who might have missed the story (and if you are British, then surely for shame, were you not watching live, and then the full race again straight after, already purchased the collector’s edition dvd complete with oar cam footage?!), this relates to a man, portrayed by the BBC as an anti-elitism protestor, who took it upon himself to have a dip in the river, coinciding with the passing of two university student filled boats. The race was suspended, restarted, during which a hapless Oxford cox ignored repeated warnings to actually steer her ship, and then crashed…

The crash is irrelevant, the man is interesting. Well, the man is not particularly interesting at all, but the television coverage the following day certainly was. Every fifteen minutes, viewers of BBC News 24 were treated to more coverage of a man’s head bobbing about in water, ducking under some oars. ‘How could this individual be so rotten as to ruin such a wonderful British past time’, the BBC seemed to be asking. After all, this was a story that put the Syrian atrocities into a state of insignificance, in the eyes of the BBC that is. Put in context, this was the equivalent of a streaker running on to the field in the Manchester football derby and the game being suspended for a short period of time…not exactly headline material, not exactly more important than national genocide, so what makes boats so special?

The obsessional enquiry betrayed the very elitism that was being contested by the lone figure who was hauled from the river. Just as with the monarchy, this ‘cream of the crop’ celebration of all things well to do that is the Oxford – Cambridge boat race, is another example of the way in which the BBC panders to its upper crust minority viewers – insisting upon its audience that this sport is something that the nation wants to watch, a nation of whom the vast majority will never be able to aspire to participate in the japery of university row boat larks that is so insistently forced upon them. We’ll get it all over again in the blasted Olympics…

So what have we learnt from all this – that the BBC is desperate to appease the most well off 5% of the country in its coverage? That’s not something that we’ve learnt, we’ve always known that. No, what we have learnt, is that a boat race is far more entertaining with a ‘head-smashed in with oar wish’ (not as catchy as death wish, but it will have to suffice) protestor than it is without, and long may this new, very British tradition continue!

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  1. Thank you – a bit of balance at last. Great post.

    • Many thanks – the coverage from this morning has been irritating me all day, could not get to sleep without a mini rant on the matter!

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