Peter Anderson ๐Ÿ… raises questions about the quality of sports punditry.

So, Saturday evening, with din-dins on a tray, I sat down to watch the second test in the Lions v Springboks series (the Boks won for those that don't know). During the build-up I noticed that one of the in-studio pundits was a woman called Maggie Alphonsi. When she spoke, the caption said she was a winner of the women's rugby world cup in 2014. I googled her and found out that she is a highly respected ex-player in women's rugby. The question, for me, is whether she is qualified to be a pundit on a Lions match?

Right off the bat, I have to say that I have no problem with women being pundits or commentators. None of the women in my life, mother, wife, sister, nieces etc have any interest in sport and have never played sport even semi-seriously and I regret that. Anything that the media and elite sport can do to bring women into sport is welcome. Similarly, that goes for ethnic minorities too, so including more minorities on TV sport is to be applauded and defended. I just don't think that that goal should be attained at the cost of good punditry. 

For any rugby player from these islands, getting selected for the Lions is the pinnacle of an elite career. Playing three tests under immense pressure, away from home in packed, hostile stadiums against the best rugby players on the planet is, according to ex-Lions, the hardest and most rewarding experience of their careers. Shouldn't the pundits come from the ranks of ex-Lions or their opponents who have actually experienced such pressure? Alphonsi is qualified enough to speak about rugby tactics but is she qualified to speak about the Lions? I'm not so sure.

In the past Sky TV, when they had the European Champions League games, always rolled out the heavy weights as pundits for the big ECL games. Guillet, Vialli, Souness etc would be used to provide input for those high intensity games and it was great to get their insight into how they coped and triumphed under such pressure. Pundits who had never played in the final stages of the ECL were not used.

Similarly, pundits who had no or little experience of the English Premier League did not get a gig on an EPL game. The excellent Don Goodman, for example, only worked on Championship or League one games. This policy seems to have been abandoned of late and I'm not sure that is a good thing. Sky were eager to break up their Gillette Soccer Saturday "dream team" because it was too old, male and white. Nothing wrong with that except they got rid of the excellent, and popular Matt Le Tissier and replaced him with the rubbish and seemingly unpopular, Clinton Morrison. This did not go down well with Sky Sports fans. I am quite happy to watch pundits regardless of the colour of their skin, but give me good pundits, give me Dion Dublin, give me Thierry Henri, give me Ian Wright, not Clinton Morrison or Garth Crooks just to tick an ethnicity box.

I understand what the BBC and Sky are trying to do and I support and applaud that, but I wish they would think more carefully about the quality of their coverage of elite sport. Does playing in the women's ECL give you a deep enough insight into the men's ECL? Was sacking LeTiss and bringing in Morrison really a box worth ticking? Or maybe it's just that I am too old, white and male to really understand?

Peter Anderson is a Unionist with a keen interest in sports.

Ticking The Wrong Boxes

Peter Anderson ๐Ÿ… raises questions about the quality of sports punditry.

So, Saturday evening, with din-dins on a tray, I sat down to watch the second test in the Lions v Springboks series (the Boks won for those that don't know). During the build-up I noticed that one of the in-studio pundits was a woman called Maggie Alphonsi. When she spoke, the caption said she was a winner of the women's rugby world cup in 2014. I googled her and found out that she is a highly respected ex-player in women's rugby. The question, for me, is whether she is qualified to be a pundit on a Lions match?

Right off the bat, I have to say that I have no problem with women being pundits or commentators. None of the women in my life, mother, wife, sister, nieces etc have any interest in sport and have never played sport even semi-seriously and I regret that. Anything that the media and elite sport can do to bring women into sport is welcome. Similarly, that goes for ethnic minorities too, so including more minorities on TV sport is to be applauded and defended. I just don't think that that goal should be attained at the cost of good punditry. 

For any rugby player from these islands, getting selected for the Lions is the pinnacle of an elite career. Playing three tests under immense pressure, away from home in packed, hostile stadiums against the best rugby players on the planet is, according to ex-Lions, the hardest and most rewarding experience of their careers. Shouldn't the pundits come from the ranks of ex-Lions or their opponents who have actually experienced such pressure? Alphonsi is qualified enough to speak about rugby tactics but is she qualified to speak about the Lions? I'm not so sure.

In the past Sky TV, when they had the European Champions League games, always rolled out the heavy weights as pundits for the big ECL games. Guillet, Vialli, Souness etc would be used to provide input for those high intensity games and it was great to get their insight into how they coped and triumphed under such pressure. Pundits who had never played in the final stages of the ECL were not used.

Similarly, pundits who had no or little experience of the English Premier League did not get a gig on an EPL game. The excellent Don Goodman, for example, only worked on Championship or League one games. This policy seems to have been abandoned of late and I'm not sure that is a good thing. Sky were eager to break up their Gillette Soccer Saturday "dream team" because it was too old, male and white. Nothing wrong with that except they got rid of the excellent, and popular Matt Le Tissier and replaced him with the rubbish and seemingly unpopular, Clinton Morrison. This did not go down well with Sky Sports fans. I am quite happy to watch pundits regardless of the colour of their skin, but give me good pundits, give me Dion Dublin, give me Thierry Henri, give me Ian Wright, not Clinton Morrison or Garth Crooks just to tick an ethnicity box.

I understand what the BBC and Sky are trying to do and I support and applaud that, but I wish they would think more carefully about the quality of their coverage of elite sport. Does playing in the women's ECL give you a deep enough insight into the men's ECL? Was sacking LeTiss and bringing in Morrison really a box worth ticking? Or maybe it's just that I am too old, white and male to really understand?

Peter Anderson is a Unionist with a keen interest in sports.

7 comments:

  1. I welcome women pundits such as Sue Smith, Alex Scott, Karen Carney and yes Maggie Alphonsi.

    They have played at the highest levels of their sports and have as much right to voice opinions (backed with the appropriate evidence) as the men.

    Should past women's lawn tennis champions such as Martina Navratilova abd Billie Jean-King be barred from punditry on men's final?

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    Replies
    1. I think this is the question Peter raises - whether their punditry is backed with appropriate evidence

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    2. I don't know Barry, that's what I'm asking. Alex Scott played football in front of a few thousand spectators with maybe tens of thousands watching on TV. The ECL final is watched by 80,000 spectators with hundreds of millions watching on TV, plus the standards of the men's and women's games are vastly different. So can they really know what it is like to play under men's conditions? Your tennis analogy is not suitable as the conditions that men and women play under are more of less similar and the women's standard is probably slightly higher as there are fewer aces.

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  2. I think this raises sound points. You are making the case that the punditry required has to be knowledge based and formed by experience. I did not see the woman so cannot comment but I found listening to some of them during the Euro soccer Championships that their insight and tactical knowledge of the game was excellent. A winner of the Women's Rugby World Cup puts here in a good position to comment and I don't think not having played at Lions level should automatically bar her. The issue for me would be one of how good she actually is.
    LeTiss was a great pundit - sheer silliness to ditch him.

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  3. Gender doesn't matter, as long as you get a wee bit of craic, maybe the odd bit of needle, you're happy. It's another transparent bit of PR from the most sheltered, privileged people on the planet pretending they are warriors, they are wankers

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  4. We need Baddiel and Skinner to commentate or be pundits.

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  5. I see Tony Cottee and Charlie Nicholas have been culled from Gillette Soccer Saturday team. Sad losses.

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