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'Experts' have a responsibility to provide genuine critical analysis

As Tiki Gelana, the defending champion and reigning Olympic champion, was mowed down by Josh Cassidy's wheelchair at the 15k drinks station during Sunday's London Marathon, it looked like a disgraceful piece of organisation.

Tiki Gelana is grounded, centre, as Josh Cassidy careers into the drinks station. Picture: BBC
Tiki Gelana is grounded, centre, as Josh Cassidy careers into the drinks station. Picture: BBC

To have these extraordinary elite women runners put at such appalling risk because they set off first and are then chased down by equally exceptional athletes in wheelchairs is clearly a mistake that must be rectified.

Fuelled by what looked like a combination of anger and adrenaline, Gelana got to her feet and rapidly caught the leading pack but the damage had been done and she was never going to be a factor in the race thereafter.

Cassidy's race was also ruined and he reacted furiously, his own months of hard work and preparation undermined.

Taking into account the vast amount of training these athletes have to do for what is, by comparison with most sporting disciplines, relatively few opportunities to compete at elite level in the course of a career, the situation demanded immediate critical analysis from the commentary team. Instead, we were told by the BBC that the athletes themselves should have been aware of the risk and should have reacted accordingly.

Think about that. You are running on the limit in one of the most important events of your life, totally focused on the rival competitors around you. Your race strategy is predicated on taking on board the right, marked, drinks at planned intervals. What else was Gelana supposed to do . . . look right, left and right again, then give way to oncoming vehicles?

To put that in context, after finishing his experimental run, Mo Farah, the world's greatest middle-distance runner, said he had dropped out earlier than expected because he made a mess of picking up drinks and had consequently learned "the biggest lesson of my life".

The failure of the commentators to provide the right coverage is, however, just the latest example of the consequences of failing to employ those with a background in real journalism.

It may not be the case in this instance but often nowadays broadcasting of events is partly funded by their organisers which means the commentators feel they cannot say anything critical. It is, though, often also a result of the relationship between broadcasters and event organisers who have been team-mates in the past and, as a result, we are subjected to something akin to cheerleading.

It is, of course, useful to include "expert analysts" who have excelled in their field as part of the mix, but it is vital that proper objectivity is maintained and what we should have heard on Sunday was justifiable criticism of a situation that could have ended an illustrious career. Instead, we got nothing but relentless gush from Brendan Foster, Steve Cram and Paula Radcliffe about how wonderful everything was.

I did not watch the programme for the whole day so it may be that the BBC sought to make amends later on, but the truth is, as much as we in newspapers would like to think otherwise, the initial tone is set for the public during live coverage. That means broadcasters, in particular the BBC, should have a responsibility to provide analysis of sport that is as intelligent and objective as their news coverage.

And Another Thing . . .

Cardiff City's promotion to football's Barclays Premier League has helped focus minds in Wales on the threat to what they call "regional rugby" if the powers that be do not get their acts together.

In effect, a dual assault on Celtic rugby is taking place as English sport flexes its financial muscle. Swansea City already have consolidated their place in the glamorous top flight of English football and Cardiff join them in world sport's most hyped competition at a time when English rugby clubs are the prime movers in a bid to overhaul the Heineken Cup, rugby's most successful competition below international level.

It will require both courage and sound nerve for Celtic rugby's negotiators to find a way through all of this but, as they seek to do so, those in Scotland and Wales must keep one thing, above all, in mind.

Rugby's greatest asset in these countries is the importance of the international game, where the respective national teams have far greater status than their footballing counterparts.

It is slightly different in Ireland – domestic football never had the same hold – but they have always shown Scotland and Wales the way, with the Rugby Union's retention of control of the schedules of leading players, while also providing the necessary funding and autonomy to let their provincial teams remain competitive.

Yet Welsh regional rugby has no more chance of sustaining the sort of wages now being demanded by its leading international players than had Scottish club rugby.

The whole structure must be properly subsidised by the Unions – that has never really happened in either Scotland or Wales – but, in turn, the Unions must provide the sort of autonomy that exists in Ireland where the provinces have control over their own decision-making.

That issue is likely to be forced in the Heineken Cup negotiations and, if so, particularly if it results in the increased income that the English and French are promising, Scottish and Welsh rugby supporters should perhaps welcome it rather than resist merely because of a visceral reaction to being told what to do from south of the border.

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