Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Fifteen reasons to watch the London Marathon on TV

There is a popular opinion that there is too much sport on television these days.

Many use this as one excuse to deprive themselves of unmissable chunks of high quality broadcasting.  
These people consider that their appetite for televised sport has been satiated by what they regard as a surfeit of events like the Olympics (summer and winter games), Match of the Day, and the seemingly endless stream of sport on satellite TV channels.

These critical citizens, many of whom are retired and leading exceptionally busy lives, have additional excuses to justify their self-denial.  
They have seen, or even participated in, events like the London marathon before.   
They know all there is to know about the event.  
If they have not seen it screened live, then perhaps they might, at best, make do with watching the highlights or perhaps limit themselves to edited extracts on news bulletins.

They have had enough of the commentary of Steve Cram and Brendan Foster regurgitating the same clich├ęs year after year.   
And they are definitely not fans of the hyperbole represented as “reality TV,” into which genre they place the televised London Marathon.

Their ultimate and killer argument is that they have better more productive things to do on a Sunday morning.

There is, of course an alternative position, one which challenges their conventional wisdom.   
Not being a member of the dismissive school of thought, this advocate proposes a number of reasons in support of the counter-argument.   
They are listed in no particular order of preference or importance.

  •  It is a privilege to be able to observe any creative pursuit - artistic as well as sporting - performed at the highest level. If unable to be a participant or a spectator at the event itself, the next best thing is to watch it live on television
  • In the process of marvelling at excellence, the viewer (of whatever age) can find a role model who will encourage and influence positive behaviour, possibly subconsciously. 
  • Who can witness athletic prowess and beauty such as that caught on camera on the streets of London on a sunny April day and not be inspired to have a go at some kind of outdoor activity.  The very act of watching runners, even at a distance through the prism of a television, can inspire the spectator to get up and go actively. 
  • Such inspiration is a joyful contrast to rapacious greed in sport (such as professional players’ wages in Premiership football) and to the nihilism of many other forms of human endeavour, such as the toxic effects of sectarianism. 
  • Like listening to live music or watching a gripping new play in the theatre, nothing beats the drama of seeing events unfold as they actually happen. 
  • Exceptionally, as happened at the Boston Marathon last year, the spectacle of community celebration and the joy of living can be overshadowed by evil.  More usually, however, the narrative relates to athletic rivalry between Kenyans and Ethiopians, supplemented with live-affirming stories from ordinary citizens motivated to participate in memory of ill or deceased relatives or friends.
  • And every year these case-studies are presented in a new and fresh way.  All of us can benefit and learn from occasional reminders of the trials of others.  Their stories can be humbling to hear.  Just as the participating athletes discover their limits of endurance, the tales of the non-professional runners help to put the viewers’ lives into another perspective. 
  • As for “reality TV,” in actual fact the real life stories told by charity fund-raisers together with the sight of runners with all manner of disabilities provide irresistible testament to the value of providing space and attention to those who are less fortunate than the majority. 
  • It is also a salutary reminder to viewers (especially those who may be sedentary) that people with all kinds of disabilities can take part and compete in what the BBC describes as the world’s best marathon. 
  • With the progress in modern technology, the television viewer can see the race in perfect definition and from the best of angles.  Such is the quality of picture, that the contemporary TV coverage provides a magnificent free conducted tour of the capital city and its many landmarks.  Every year the cityscape is evolving. 
  • Inspiring is an understatement to describe the spirit and zest of the participants, never mind the welcoming embrace of Londoners (and the volunteers) for all of the visitors to this great and inclusive city.  This is an important subliminal message, relevant nationwide, and beyond. 
  • Those who argue that they have no time to watch the London marathon need to trust their innate talent and human nature’s capacity for multi-tasking.  It is possible to watch the marathon at the same time as having breakfast, texting family and friends, reading the Sunday papers and taking on a cryptic crossword.  In this way all areas of the brain can be active at the same time.
  • For those sceptics and cynics who remain unconvinced at this solid array of axioms, there is always the alternative of watching the 60 minute highlights programme in the evening after dinner when it is dark and gardening is not on the agenda.  Another option is the BBC i-player. 
  • It may sound slightly paradoxical to say that whereas there is no compulsion to watching anything on television, there are few programmes which exalt the generous spirit of humanity and the joy of life so artistically as the BBC’s coverage of the London Marathon. 
  • Television is the most accessible of cultural assets. Nobody is excluded.  In the same way that supermarkets lure shoppers with loss-leaders, watching the London Marathon on Freeview might well lead the reluctant viewer to discover hidden gems among other televisual delights.  These might include Andrew Graham-Dixon's series "Secret Lives of the Artists," or the London Proms right through the summer into September. 

If none of this convinces you about the artistic virtue and informative capacity of television, I have an alternative recommendation.
Japan’s best-known and prize-winning author Haruki Murakami, regarded by some as a nihilist and described by the Guardian as “among the world’s greatest living novelists,”[1] has also written a couple of non-fiction books.  

One of them is about his experience of long-distance running and how it prepares him to be a great writer as well as a veteran athlete.

Born (and married) in the same years as this aspirant writer, his words neatly complement the inspiration that derives from watching the London Marathon.  The intriguing title is “What I talk about when I talk about running.”

His is a memoir not only about long distance running, but just as much about equipping himself for life.  
As an afterthought, it is also a little about the coping constructively with process of ageing.

©Michael McSorley 2014

[1] Steven Poole Guardian 27 May 2000