Dear The British Media, especially Freeview broadcasters,
You may have noticed that something extraordinary happened this summer, something wonderful. The Great British Public were treated to the most amazing sporting spectacular – Sportsmas, as one friend of mine puts it. We saw, in the Olympics but especially in the Paralympics, years and years of hard work, training and sacrifice coming to fruition for some of our most talented athletes. And it was beautiful.
We saw Helen Glover and Heather Stanning taking the first British gold of the Olympics in the women’s pairs at Eton Dorney. We saw Andy Murray winning gold at Wimbledon, a victory all the sweeter for his loss only a few weeks earlier on that very same court. We saw Mo Farrah completing the 5,000m and 10,000m double, wining gold and the hearts of everyone who watched.
Then, a few weeks later, came the Paralympics and many of us found ourselves unsure of what to expect, but what we got was even better than the Olympics. The disabled athletes may have been categorised by their disability, but they weren’t defined by it. They were defined by their performances, by their successes. And what successes we saw!
David Weir thrashing the field to take home four golds and, with pitch perfect timing, showing his mastery not just of speed but of endurance. Ellie Simmonds taking two golds and breaking two world records in two days, triumphing with grace and humility. Jonnie Peacock powering past Oscar Pistorius to take the 100m in one of the most anticipated races of the games. Sarah Storey taking four cycling golds, a feat all the more spectacular because of her astonishing medal history as a swimmer.
So much sporting excellence, so much passion and love and talent and tenacity, I’d be here all day if I tried to write a complete list. Even those of us not really ‘into sports’ shared in the joy of our athletes’ success and the pain of their failure. We sat, glued to the TV screen, willing our athletes on to greater and greater achievements.
For those of us lucky enough to go to the games themselves, the experience was one we’ll never, ever forget. The television simply doesn’t do justice to the roar of an 80,000-strong crowd, on its feet, screaming for David Weir to go faster, faster, faster and then exploding with delight as he crossed the line first. It. Was. Amazing. Awe-inspiring. Astonishing. Beautiful.
And what about those sports that we barely knew existed? Murderball, known also by the name (or should that be euphemism?) wheelchair rugby, turned out to be one of the most exhilarating sports of the Paralympics. Wheelchair basketball, much more exciting and much less squeaky than its able bodied version. Blind football, in which sight-impaired players locate the ball solely through the sound of the bell inside and show a level of control of the ball that seems often to escape their sighted counterparts.
Whilst we’re talking about sports less often broadcast, what about the women’s football in the Olympics? What an amazing display of skill and talent! The men’s football was staid and boring by comparison, lacking in any real flare or excitement. Given the choice between seeing a men’s international, full of shilly-shallying, diving and egotism, and watching a women’s international, I know which I’d choose for maximum entertainment value.
And here we are at the nub of it. Sportsmas comes but once every four years, and I don’t want to wait until Rio before I get to see some women’s football on my TV again. I don’t want to wait four years before I see David Weir or Jonnie Peacock storming past their rivals. I don’t want to wait to see Hannah Cockcroft or Natasha Baker or Jonathan Fox or any of our other brilliant Paralympians compete. Because let’s face it, it’s not like our athletes sit around on their arses in the four years in between the Games, as Jody Cundy so eloquently explained.
There are more sports in heaven and earth, dear broadcasters, than are dreamt of in your scheduling philosophy. And, not to put too fine a point on it, we want to see them on TVs. Get the murderball on our screens, the women’s football, the fencing, the single/double amputee sprinting, the wheelchair basketball, the vision-impaired footie, the boccia, the synchronised swimming…
We have tasted the glory of disabled sport and we fucking love it. We have seen the lesser-known Olympic sports, and we fucking love them too. Sports coverage in the UK has become focused on just a few big-ticket events, and that’s boring, unimaginative and exclusionary. We’ve seen you do better now, oh BBC and Channel 4, and we want to you to keep that momentum going. And for you other Freeview broadcasters, you have seen now how popular these sports can be, so you can join in, safe in the knowledge that we care enough to watch, so long as you don’t shove stuff on at stupid times of the day.
Furthermore, that cynicism you lot so cherish, that you think shows how sophisticated you are? The pointing and sneering and laughing at people on ‘reality TV’? Yeah, that can stop now too, please. We’ve seen what reality looks like, and it looks like the Weirwolf giving every last little drop of blood to cross that marathon finishing line in first place. That’s the reality we admire, that we love, and that we want to see more of.
Grasp the nettle. Broaden your sporting horizons. And give us the chance to follow our Paralympians and Olympians all the way through to the next Games in Rio. Do them the honour of supporting them all the time, not just at Sportsmas.