We’ve been here before. A year ago, I blogged on the flaws in the BBC’s coverage of Badminton Horse Trials, one of the highlights of the equestrian calendar. Unbelievably, the coverage in 2015 was worse than before. Admittedly, I missed the coverage on cross country day because – guess what? – I was out with my friends’ horses, but I was kept up to date by my sister, and cross country day isn’t what I’m taking issue with.
Although the BBC didn’t take my most basic advice on board – that, if they can’t give eventing top-billing on main channels, that there should at least be consistency, and any coverage of the event should be via the Red Button channel OR BBC 2, not straddling the two – they do seem to have communicated their message better: in 2014, I was fielding many Tweets from confused fans who were watching on the wrong channel. This year, the Twitter backlash was regarding something very different. In 2014, cross country day was little better than decimation – only 28 horses and riders made it to the final day of competition. A year later, there were many riders remaining, and the competition was in an exciting state – the top of the leader board was packed with big, talented names, with very few points between them, demanding stellar performances. It would’ve been very watchable… had the cameras been rolling.
The BBC chose to show just six show jumping rounds live in 2015. On a day when 57 combinations remained in the competition. I’m not advocating they show all of them, that would be tedious, but those livetweeting the event vouched for the fact that the show jumping course was riding badly, meaning that the competition was hotter than hot. Instead, the BBC showed a lot of cross country highlights: great for those who missed the cross country coverage or have never watched the sport before, again terrible for the hardcore fans.
We all know I’m a big fan, but objectively speaking, Clare Balding did again do a great job: she worked hard, running around the collecting ring and speaking to riders as soon as they came out of the show jumping ring. This made great use of the seconds between rounds, and she gained some good insights from riders such as Mark Todd, as well as following first-timer Rose Carnegie diligently all the way through the event. Clare further proved her credentials in the pre-recorded footage, talking viewers through different shapes and sizes of horses, and capably picking up a horse’s enormous hoof – the woman knows her way around a horse, and has a great passion for them, you can tell she loves covering equestrian events, and I hope that broadcasters continue to put someone who enjoys a sport in front of the camera, because it adds something special to the coverage.
At this point I despair, really. Two years in a row the BBC have demonstrated that they have a great deal of talent at their fingertips – the technicality of the broadcast is great; Balding and the commentary team of Ian Stark and Mike Tucker remain on point – but it’s wasted with poor production and scheduling. There’s precious little equestrianism – which has three Olympic sports and a huge amount of talented Brits – on free to air television annually, but at this point, I’d almost rather there were none at all. I remain disappointed and deprived of my favourite sport. Where do we go from here, and how do we ensure that people are able to view equestrian sport and be excited by it as I once was?