sport on television

sport on television
   From slow beginnings in the 1950s, sport has become crucial to all television stations, costs millions of pounds and can attract huge ratings. The 1950s saw the BBC establish a format for sport that has endured. Wednesday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings became the norm, with programmes like TV Sport Magazine (later Sportsnight) and Sports Special aimed at the dedicated fan (assumed to be male). The flagship, Grandstand, began in 1958 and covered a range of sports linked by a personality presenter. Once ITV came into existence, it responded with World of Sport, but it often suffered both from having to show more minority sports and from comparisons with the BBC.
   By the 1970s and 1980s the competition for rights was becoming increasingly fraught, with accusations of bad faith in 1978 over the sale of rights to league football for instance, while the economic pressures on the BBC saw commercial television snap up numerous events. Increasingly, however, the significance of television to a number of sports could be seen, particularly in tournaments invented solely for coverage, such as the football Screen Sport Cup, and new tournaments in athletics, tennis and many smaller sports. The 1990s saw the rise of BSkyB and the globalization of television sport, with Channel 4 showing Italian football, Gaelic football, kabbadi, sumo, gridiron and Australian rules football.
   Television sport portrays itself as apolitical, but many theorists have shown how politicized it actually is. The vast majority is male sport; women rarely get shown, and when they do, the coverage reinforces concepts of femininity and elegance, while women spectators are usually categorized as casual viewers more interested in the personalities than the game. Football, rugby and cricket coverage has also been shown to pander to dubious concepts of racial and national identity. Equally, when it suits the national interest, broadcasters forget that they are apolitical, as at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Usually, overtly political messages are ignored, as when black footballer Paul Ince was racially abused by West Ham fans in 1995. BBC commentary on the game simply redefined this as abuse towards an ex-player. Sports authorities have recognized that millions of pounds are available from television coverage, directly and indirectly, so getting coverage has become the top priority, while television concedes sport is the best way of securing ratings.
   Further reading
    Whannel, G. (1992) Fields in Vision, London: Routledge.
   SAM JOHNSTONE

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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