Monday 20 May 2019

Comment: Awkward Chris Froome SPOTY interview leaves BBC and Clare Balding in no-win situation

Chris Froome speaks via video link during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017 at the Liverpool Echo Arena
Chris Froome speaks via video link during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017 at the Liverpool Echo Arena

James Corrigan

“Awks”. That was the general reception on social media to Chris Froome’s interview on Sports Personality of the Year. No, the elephant was not in the room, but it did happen to be on a video link from Majorca.

What Froome would have given for that ginormous screen to flash “signal loss detected” as it was to for Mo Farah just as he was about to express his astonishment at finally being crowned Britain’s best after so many years of proving himself the world’s best.

Mo was only in London, the show was only in Liverpool. So it had to be asked following the power being turned off, but did the BBC lose the rights to this as well?

However, credit must be given where it is due and it is definitely due to Clare Balding for posing the difficult question about the “adverse findings” in that Froome drugs test, which came to light only last week. But then, maybe you were one of those who were disgusted by the presenter’s interrogation of the garlanded cyclist. Certainly many seemed to be.

Why, they asked, was Lewis Hamilton let off the queries regarding the recent tax avoidance furore? Why was Mo allowed to escape without at least one inquiry about his, now former, coach Alberto Salazar?

Well, apart from the fact that Hamilton’s financial concerns have nothing to do with his speed behind a wheel and that Farah’s cloud remains circumstantial, it cannot be argued that as far as Froome goes, Balding could not win and SPOTY could not win. Damned if they did not, dammed if they did.

As it was, Froome played it as well as he could, bowing his head when Balling asked him “to give us your take”.

“Listen, I do completely get it - I understand the concerns,’ Froome said. “I know how some people might look at my sport… and the responsibility I do take seriously. I’ve had asthma since I was child… and I’ve never taken more puffs [of my inhaler] than I’m allowed. It’s a horrible situation if I’m honest and we are trying to get to the bottom of this.”

Balding’s detractors should realise Froome was not blindsided. He knew it was coming. There would have been conversations between his people and the BBC people. Still, it could only ever be described as an incongruous moment. Serious dialogue in sport’s most shameless luvvie-fest.

It was akin to Crimewatch breaking out in an episode of the Vicar of Dibley. Yet if Balding’s bold transformation from CBeebies to Paxman and back again put us off our stride then Gaby Logan expertly returned us to this orgy of the backslaps. From the wheezy to the queasy.

The segment with Farah was beyond cringe-worthy. Balding called it the “best interview ever” and clearly so many were touched by the child climbing over Sir Mo as he replied to Logan’s attempts to put him through the wringer concerning how brilliant he is. Maybe, that is what, after all those golds, all those records, at last swung it for Sir Mo. Sums up the modern-day SPOTY, really. “Relevance loss detected.”

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