Telegraph readers on the changes BBC Sport must make

Mary Earps (centre) poses with the trophy after winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year alongside presenters Clare Balding (left), Alex Scott (second left), Gabby Logan (second right) and Gary Lineker during the 2023 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards
The BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Awards, and Gary Lineker in particular, came in for criticism from Telegraph readers - PA/David Davies

This week’s Telegraph Sport essay, “How the BBC’s sport coverage has lost its way”, has drawn thousands of reader responses. From outrage at the remuneration of Gary Lineker to anguish at the corporation turning its back on live golf, the subject has drawn the widest range of impassioned contributions.

Ahead of a monumental year for sport, from the European Championship to the Paris Olympics, here are the five major changes that readers believe the broadcaster must make to serve its core audience more effectively.

Trust in true broadcasters, not ex-athletes

Des Lynam struck a particular chord with his contention that the BBC has “moved away from broadcasting too much”, pivoting excessively towards presenters with glittering sporting backgrounds but limited screen skills. “We need to focus on regaining talented journalists,” Matthew Edwards says. “Don’t go for the most expensive.” Robert Eaton urges a return to voices “who can paint a picture with their words”. According to Gavin Laidlaw, there should be “no automatic promotion from sports star to microphone”.

There are, of course, exceptions: Sue Barker won the 1976 French Open and went on to achieve national treasure status courtesy of her natural warmth and empathy. Anna Stone reflects how she enjoyed “anything Sue was covering”, while Christine Callingham pines for listening again to “people who have a really deep historical understanding of sport”.

Move on from Gary Lineker

There is no escaping it: Lineker’s £1.35 million salary, coupled with his defiant political tweeting, is a source of profound anger across the board, with near-universal consensus that the BBC should let him go. “Does anyone within the BBC hierarchy actually believe that Lineker’s mere presence in the studio has ever added a single viewer,” Patrick Taylor asks. “Nobody else at the BBC would still be employed if they made his comments,” Anthony Denny argues. “There are so many capable people who could take his place and do a better job on a fraction of the salary.” Many make the case for Mark Chapman to be given the chance.

The BBC has announced Gary Lineker will return to presenting this week after reaching an agreement over his social media statements.
Gary Lineker is often the centre of attention when it comes to BBC Sport's coverage - Shutterstock/Neil Hall

Tom Porter, expressing incredulity that the star anchor was retained last March despite comparing the Government’s asylum policy to the language of 1930s Germany, says: “Keeping Lineker on was a disgrace and has ruined the BBC’s tenuous claim to impartiality.” Michael Fearson says: “I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who no longer tune in because of him.”

Show more golf and cricket

The BBC’s abandonment of golf has never been more glaring. While Iain Carter provides compelling radio coverage, the lack of any live television rights meant that a review of the 2023 majors at Sports Personality of the Year lasted just eight seconds. “Get back the golf majors and the Ryder Cup,” says Derek Youngson, who also notes how engaging the former commentators could be. “Peter Alliss and Ken Brown were peerless.”

There are also passionate appeals for the corporation to strengthen its commitment to cricket, with many readers affectionately recalling the erudition of Brian Johnston and Christopher Martin-Jenkins on Test Match Special. Roger Daniel accuses the BBC of “dumbing down coverage to pander to the less well-informed – a classic example is broadcasting the Hundred but forsaking Test cricket”.

Bring back Question of Sport

Despite one school of thought that the quiz had run its natural course, it remains cherished by readers who identify BBC meddling as the only reason for its demise. After Barker was replaced as host by Paddy McGuinness, ratings nosedived before the show was eventually pulled. “Question of Sport was the best programme – I loved it,” Sue Ridley says. “This is from someone who has no interest in sports at all. But those who run the BBC then decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It was change for change’s sake, it was dire, and it has failed.”

For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only Undated BBC handout photo of Sue Barker with Matt Dawson (left) and Phil Tufnell. Barker is leaving A Question Of Sport after 23 years as part of a major shake-up at the programme
A Question of Sport is no more, though the Sue Barker-led edition had already been shelved - PA/Vishal Sharma

“My wife and I stopped watching after a few episodes of the new format,” Derek Atkins says. “Bring it back and make it a proper sports quiz,” Nick Trinder implores. Glenn Beckett fondly recalls the “knowledge and humour” of the era when Ian Botham and Emlyn Hughes were team captains.

End the moral lectures

One unmistakeable feature of BBC Sport’s magazine shows has been the shoehorning of pious diversity segments, leaving many loyal viewers feeling alienated and harangued. Nick Palmer laments the “general woke-ification” of Football Focus in recent years, claiming: “It bears no resemblance to the Football Focus of old.” “I can’t believe we watched Ski Sunday with presenters saying that skiing was too white,” Hamish Smith says. “It’s pushing social engineering down our throats. Let things be as they are without us constantly being judged.”

“A sports programme should be about the sport,” John Kinsey argues. “If you tune in for Rick Stein’s cookery show, you rightly expect a diet of fish. Tune into BBC Sport and you don’t expect a diet of politics, diversity and morality lectures.” “The focus on political and social issues – leave it alone,” Mike Riley agrees. “If I want to hear about these things, I’ll watch Newsnight.”

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