But I was pleased he stood up for Gabby Logan the other day when she was attacked by Lord Coe. What stung him was criticism by the BBC of the poor crowds at the World Athletics Championships in Doha. This was strange, bonkers even, because “poor” is too polite and “pathetic” would be more accurate. The sight of Dina Asher-Smith on her lap of honour at a virtually empty stadium, after becoming the first Brit to win an individual sprint medal for 36 years, is one which will haunt the sport during the rest of Coe’s reign as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. Unless he’s got another London 2012 up his immaculate sleeve and he doesn’t, or can’t have, as that would be counter to his philosophy.
Coe when he assumed the role in 2015, calling it the crowning moment of his career, declared that his chief aim would be to ensure the IAAF “really does function” across the world, the number of federations at that point having risen to 260 and maybe now there are even more. Athletics, he said, was “the most global of sports” so the IAAF couldn’t just look after the powerhouses – America, Russia, China and Jamaica – but also countries like Qatar. But does Qatar want athletics? It seems not.
Its leaders may crave the prestige, the glamour, the convention of sporting gods, sashaying on magnificent limbs into tented functions, which comes with such events – but they have been unable to press-gang anything more than an embarrassingly minuscule amount of the citizenry into watching the running and jumping. Possibly the bulk of the citizenry decided: “It’s 38C out there – what were we even thinking?” You might call this moment of clarity “Doh!-in-Doha” but Coe isn’t having it. Instead he’s bitching about the Beeb’s coverage of the championships, as if it’s somehow been to blame for turning off the Qataris with flip, facile remarks aimed at another audience entirely but which reach them by osmosis.
Coe didn’t use the words flip and facile but I guess that’s what he meant. He didn’t call Logan a dilettante, as was reported, but I guess that’s what he meant. “It’s very easy to sit there and make all sorts of Gabby Logan-type judgments over three or four days then clear off back to Match of the Day,” he said.
“The problem I’ve got is… the way our sport is being portrayed by some of the people in that studio.” Stick to the races, he seemed to be saying. Let’s hear more about great times. Good news all the way, keep it upbeat, and never mind that hardly anyone wants to go along and watch, which would of course be a quantum leap for Qataris in terms of their culture (and let’s hope football and the coming World Cup isn’t one too).
Just as Coe has described drug cheat-free athletics as an impossible utopia, so is a vast and rapt audience for these championships which, despite their name, have always been second to the Olympics. And all Olympics from now on, by the way, will be second to 2012, when this host nation stunned itself by the extent to which it was enraptured by them. Not for nothing are the London Games being regularly quoted right now as the very best of multicultural Britain, a happy state of affairs we may never see again.
On Logan, Coe is wrong. For one thing she doesn’t just front football but rugby and, yes, athletics regularly. For another she’s good, the best female sport presenter by a metric mile, if I’m still allowed to differentiate between the sexes.
‘BT Sport’s a joke while Cox offers real humour’
It’s decision-time in the Smith household. The monthly spend needs cutting and some telly channels will have to go, but which ones? I need Sky Atlantic for US dramas like Succession and jokes like the Scots emigre media mogul played by Dundee thespian Brian Cox being bought Hearts by his useless sons only to groan: “But I’m Hibs!” Of course he is. The joke wouldn’t work the other way round.
What about BT Sport, official broadcasters of the Champions League, a competition which doesn’t normally get going until February. Last week’s games at Anfield and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium did their darnedest to disprove that theory but I was spitting macaroon bar flakes at the commentator for the Spurs-Bayern Munich match.
He failed to detect the key theme – Bayern’s ability to counter-attack at will, at speed – or perhaps he refused to accept it as such, given that BT had viewed the contest as all coming down to Harry Kane vs Robert Lewandowski with in their opinion the Englishman fully expected to emerge on top.
When the German champs surged, the man at the mic wittered. When Lewandowski brilliantly flicked the ball over the Spurs statue en route to his first goal, the commentator was at that moment plugging BT’s coverage of the Premier League and a game at Brighton. Someone in the production suite realised this and his drivel was erased from the highlights. Of course, that’s a safety-net denied just about everyone else in football. Referees can’t make themselves look better even if VAR overrules their lousy decisions and strikers can’t rewind time, untie their feet and slot the ball coolly home instead of firing it out of the ground.