Why The Winter Olympics Haven’t Been Given A Fair Chance

22 02 2010

It’s that time of the year, when we are all glued to the television sets in anticipation to see a new world record be made in the skeleton event. Not quite.

The Winter Olympics is a tournament, which can’t live up to the expectation that its big brother has set. It is estimated that 4.7 billion people tuned in to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympics; it would be a surprise if half that figure watched the athletes competing in the chilly conditions of Vancouver.

But why?

Amy Williams With Her Gold Medal

It’s not as if the media coverage is any different. Ok perhaps the BBC might change their schedules to make sure the 100m final is on their prime time channel, but the provision is there for the Winter games. Interactive choices along with the opportunity to watch the highlights in the evening, but people still are not taking as much interest.

It’s not as if the athletes train any less than their “superiors”. They still have to put in years of dedicated training.

It starts from the ‘grassroots level’, as I like to put it in the broadcasting industry. We have the opportunity to watch Athletics meetings live on a Sunday afternoon, football is on nearly every day of the week, and sports such as Basketball are phenomenally popular in America. They are on our sports channels constantly, and thus give the Olympics a broad attraction. The amount of media coverage is quite frightening.

Dedicated channels are on the networks. They constantly update us with news on these sports. When we purchase our papers in the morning, especially tabloids, more often than not they are the leading story.

However compare this to the winter sports.

How regularly do you see biathlon and curling being broadcasted live to millions of people? Are there regular winter columnists who cast their opinion amongst us?

A fair argument against this is that, yes as it says on the tin, these sports are played in the winter. There is not a large shop window, compared to say football, which if we include international tournaments is basically a yearlong game.

In contrast I can’t remember being informed on how our skeleton athletes have been getting on in the World Cup during the past year. Perhaps some publications do include summaries to keep the diehard fans informed, but usually it is a column of no more than 200 words tucked in the corner on the first (last) page of the sports section.

It is a shame that these athletes have to go by unrecognised. But perhaps they prefer it. They are not under the media scrutiny that the million pound rugby players are. But it is a tough old sport to stay in.

The money is not there, especially in this country. The equipment is not cheap, and without the terrain and climate to support the testing, athletes have less opportunity. The romance however is that they are quite clearly in the game for the love of it, not the financial benefits that can be reaped.

A young female competitor however will wake up this morning a national hero. She received a letter from Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday congratulating her on the success of winning the skeleton female singles event. Her name is Amy Williams, and to the vast majority of the public, was a complete unknown prior to the games.

It’s pleasing that she will receive the public warmth and recognition that she quite clearly deserves. But will we remember her by the time the 2014 games come around?

Perhaps sports lovers like ourselves will remember the name, maybe even purposely keep watch of her development, but in the long term she won’t receive recognition that perhaps Kelly Homes has.

The problem is that the media can’t really do a lot more. When the games come around we specify quite a large proportion of the sports page to the winter section. It comes more to the point of whether the government want to increase the access of winter sports. For example the British skeleton athletes had to test their skates in wind turbines, which the Formula 1 team McClaren use.

An engineering student at Southampton University made Williams skate, not knowing anything about the sport. Wonderful, she created a skate that helped win Britain an Olympic gold. Genius.

But surely the Government should be ensuring more funds were used to help fund SnowsportGB, which ironically is on the verge of going into administration, than letting a student construct equipment, which an Olympic athlete is using.

Well I suppose they need that money to buy their holiday home in France.

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