As Euro 2012 kicks off in a Europe that is experiencing one of its worst financial meltdowns in history, TV broadcasting companies seem to have taken it upon themselves to describe the former within the context of the latter. They are committing the unforgivable: attempting to merge politics with sport.
The idea itself is not all that bad – a merging of the two has awesome potential. Football commentary could be loaded with social commentary, providing a wealth of topical information for the audience; a catalyst for heated debate, bigoted opinions and of course smug, self-satisfied mental pats-on-the-back – everyone watching would be sitting around thinking ‘I am just so engaged in current affairs’.
An emotionally-charged sporting event on a sharply poised political battlefield; it is the stuff of media dreams. So many opportunities for zooming out to look at the wider implications, the bigger picture, so many controversies to be reported, so many stories to be told.
But, alas, all told heinously badly.
For although the idea of merging political and sports commentary is fundamentally a good one – in that it would appeal to a larger audience that would feel so gloriously informed on the nature of the world (and give us a chance to lap up and then regurgitate second-hand facts and opinions, as we so love doing) – it is the implementation of the idea that is always doomed to failure: we cannot help but cringe at a sports commentator getting political or at a political commentator getting sporty.
In their coverage of the football match Germany v Greece on Friday night, for example, ITV failed spectacularly in touching on the wider political picture.
When pre-match pundits Adrian Chiles, Roy Keane, Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate sat around discussing how they’d fill the twenty minute pre-game slot (well, with ITV’s ridiculous advert schedule, closer to eight minutes) before the programme aired, it must have occurred to one of them suddenly – ‘Oh shit, we could talk about the bailout thing! That’s relevant, right? What a unique perspective on the match! What an angle!’
I imagine they thought it’d appear subtle, understated – intelligent – but Southgate on European austerity measures was never going to be titillating.
If only the charade had ended in the pre-match natter (which is inane enough as it is). Unfortunately for ITV – and for us watching – it didn’t. The in-game commentators – Peter Drury and Jim Beglin – took the reins, and out came some howlers.
With Greece’s initial equaliser came Peter Drury’s ecstatic declaration; ‘the Greeks have wiped their debt!’ Towards the end of the game came Drury’s thoughtful observation, ‘it’s as if the Greek players are saying to the Germans “We deserve to share the pitch with you, the continent with you – and maybe finances too”’; and finally, most patronisingly, on the Greeks at the final whistle, Drury concluded: ‘They’ve had fun – they’ve needed fun – they’ve made fun’.
These half-arsed and despicably generalised political references no doubt caused some heads to nod knowingly, sympathetically; but the majority I’m sure shared my reaction – violent, aggressive, and passionate cringing. This is not incorporating politics into football; it is merely pundits wielding their own ignorance in what they think is a stimulating manner. There is no need for it. Drury; football players are not motivated by EU finance regulations – please abstain from pretending that they are.
On a brief tangent, Jim Beglin – secondary commentator – was also guilty of horrible commentary but for less relevant reasons. When Greece were 1-0 down, the camera shot to a Greek fan wearing a Spartan helmet. Jim observes: ‘Yes, it’s going to take something really Trojan now’. Greeks aren’t Trojan – that’s not even obscure knowledge. The Battle of Troy – ring any bells? Greeks vs Trojans? And then when the Greeks were 4-1 down, Jim offers: ‘It’s going to take something truly Herculean now’. Mythological Greek reference – YES! – and the correct nationality!
It’s still shit commentary though, Jim.
I managed to turn the TV off just as the match ended, before Jim could pop up again with what was no doubt intended as some all-encompassing concluding statement something along the lines of ‘the Germans managed to find the Greek Achilles heel in the end.’ I’m sure he and Peter, after the game had finished and they were off-air, patted each other on the back and said; ‘cool references, man.’
Back to the point – as long as sport continues to be presented by pundits who in the past have only ever discussed sport, a merging of sporting and political commentary will never work. Gareth Southgate seems like a nice enough guy, has some okay opinions on football – but hearing him say ‘German austerity regulation’ – and seeing Roy Keane laugh ‘you talk about austerity, the Greeks aren’t even putting anyone in the box!’ – caused within me a desire to just end it all.
If I wanted to listen to muddled, smug and appallingly vague political commentary then I’d watch Question Time. Please ITV – just stick to the football.