There is nothing quite like seeing the blood, sweat and tears that make up an elite athlete’s life.

The past few years have ensured the way we watch sport has evolved to the point it is barely recognisable from a decade ago. Gone are the days when covering the action is enough. Instead, athletes, games and performances are analysed and dissected to the point that often, there is literally nothing left to be said.

In 2019, sports coverage changed even more with the arrival of “Drive To Survive”, Netflix’s behind-the-scenes look at the Formula One World Championship.

The docu-series resulted in a surge in the sport’s popularity, particularly with the younger demographic and in the US.

It changed the landscape in terms of sports broadcasting, and made everyone realise that as enthralling as the action on the pitch, track or field is, often what people really want to see is what happens when the action stops.

“Drive To Survive” made stars of team principles and bit-part players who otherwise are barely heard of.

Unsurprisingly, given the success of F1’s foray into reality television, other sports are jumping on the bandwagon. On Friday, Netflix released the first instalment of tennis’ version, “Break Point”, which seeks to give a similarly candid behind-the-scenes glimpse of top tennis players.

It’s a less than spectacular attempt to portray tennis as a kind of soap opera but what is stark is just how brutal individual sports can be.

From the description of tennis’ scoring system to the absence of so many of the sport’s important events, it’s clear this programme is designed to appeal to novices, or newcomers to the sport, rather than diehards.

It misses a trick in that the biggest names in the sport – Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Iga Swiatek – are largely absent having declined the cameras access, but the series unquestionably taps into why elite athletes are so fascinating.

Sport, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t really matter. But the behind-the-scenes insight these series give highlights that athletes are so often wired differently from “normal” people.

Just like it’s impossible to look away from a car crash, it’s difficult not to be fascinated by players being broken by a loss.

Athletes, more often than not, gauge their self-worth on wins and losses, and it shows how much self-loathing even the best athletes can feel.

“When I’m okay, I feel at home on court and I feel like this is my place. But I go from that to ‘get me out of here, I want to die’,” said Spaniard, Paula Badosa in one episode.

In another, it is revealed how much athletes will put on the line, with Taylor Fritz taking to the court despite his team urging him to withdraw due to an ankle injury for fear of doing further, irreparable, damage.

“If I pulled out, it would bother me my whole life,” he says.

Normal people don’t put their long-term health at risk like this, but athletes do.

“Break Point” may have missed a number of opportunities but these docu-series are worth watching because they show both how normal elite athletes are, and how exceptional.

While the sporting action may be enthralling, seeing the people behind the performance is far more interesting.

And more than anything, it shows why not everyone has what it takes to make it to the top in sport.

Sporting action may be enthralling but getting to know the participants is far more interesting.


Parliamentary cross-party committee reports are rarely notable, and do not often make the sports pages, but last week’s findings on London 2012, and the unfulfilled legacy promised are disheartening, but unsurprising.

The report said the promises that the London Olympics would boost participation in sport and would, as a nation, make us fitter, have not been kept.

Few would have been shocked. It hardly takes a public health expert to see that Britain as a whole is depressingly unfit, with a worryingly low number of both children and adults taking part in regular sport and activity.

The organisers of the London Olympics claimed, in the years leading up to the Games, and as billions of pound were ploughed into its staging, that the knock-on effect to the country would be both wide-reaching and long-lasting.

This report debunks that this is what has happened.

In fact, rather than the Olympics increasing the numbers taking part in sport, in the three years following the Games, fewer adults took part.

Many of the statistics in the report apply to England but Scotland has a similar issue when it comes to inactivity.

The public health crisis that is engulfing the NHS would be helped significantly were we a fitter, more active nation but instead of devising a workable, sensible plan that encourages individuals and communities to be more active, one-off sporting extravaganzas are relied upon to work magic.

We should all know by now, this does not work. London 2012 was spectacular, but it didn’t, and was never going to change the country.

Let’s stop pedalling this myth that two weeks of elite sport can shift the course of a nation. If the government really wants to get Britain fitter as a nation, it’s a joined-up grassroots strategy that will do it, not a fortnight of gold medals.