BBC Sport is going North – and London doesn’t like it

In Monday’s Evening Standard, Stephen Robinson – apparently a veteran BBC man – complained at great length about the Beeb’s decision to move its sport coverage from London to Manchester (well, Salford Quays to be more precise). Robinson has got this one very wrong. The real oddity is why the Beeb didn’t make this move a long time ago.

His thesis consisted of two very shaky arguments. First, that London is the centre of the sporting universe. He actually gave this quite startling example:

Take the Pakistan cricket story. It has involved the police in London, a newspaper based in London, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London. We live in a highly centralised country. How can the BBC Sports department, or Five Live, cover that story from Manchester?

Am I missing something? This was a crime committed in London. This is why the investigation was led by the Metropolitan police. BBC Sport would cover the story from Manchester just like the current London-based organisation covers stories from around the country, and indeed the world. He says, ludicrously, that BBC Sport must be based in London because that’s where the News of the World (the newspaper at the centre of the story) is based. Aside from the fact that our national broadcaster should not take its cue from the News of the World, has Robinson wondered how on earth the News of the World itself managed to give so much coverage to recent stories, for instance, around Wayne Rooney’s private life? Did they insist that Wayne and Colleen relocate to London for the duration of their sex scandal?

Robinson also cites the London Olympics. Well, the BBC has managed to cover every other Olympic Games of modern times without being based in the host city, so I’m sure it will cope this time. As a matter of fact, the UK’s (and indeed the world’s) most popular and lucrative sporting enterprise, the Premier League, is largely Northern-led. London and the South-East have five Premier League clubs, whereas the North-West has eight – including England’s most successful (Liverpool), biggest (Man United), and richest (Man City) clubs.

Robinson’s second main argument is that BBC staff don’t really want to go, and will probably waste a lot of license-payers money scurrying between Manchester and London. He may be correct – but Robinson presents this as something that will plague BBC Sport in perpetuity. In fact, it is purely transitional. Ultimately the BBC is trying to open itself up to a wider talent pool. It will be both necessary and desirable for our national broadcaster to start hiring a few Mancunians. Maybe even a few Scousers.

And on this, for the first time in my life, I agree with Hazel Blears.

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