Yes/No: Is Elite Sport being undermined by Reality TV?

Callum Shannon – Yes:

LET’S GET one thing straight: sport based reality TV programmes have nothing to do with promoting their subject sport and everything to do with promoting the (often floundering) careers of their celebrity participants. Watching a former Arsenal goalkeeper dropping his skating partner face first onto the ice rink, or a second rate comedian fail at diving into a swimming pool makes a mockery of the sports they attempt and does nothing to encourage people to watch professional sport, let alone take part in it. Take the BBC’s ever popular Strictly Come Dancing, for example. Regularly attracting over nine million viewers, the show has done nothing to enhance the profile of ballroom dancing. This is because, as much as TV producers want to deny it, people aren’t tuning in to watch sport, they’re tuning in to watch celebrities humiliate themselves. For instance, Ann Widdecombe, who had about as much aptitude for dance as your typical student in Willow after a few Sambuca shots, managed to last until week nine of the competition.

With reality TV being some viewer’s only experience of some sports, especially more obscure and niche ones like ballroom dancing and diving, to portray them as a laughing stock does nothing to enhance the credibility or popularity of the event. If people think they portray an accurate representation of the sport they spotlight, they’re going to be disappointed when they go and watch leading figure skaters.


Angus Quinn – No:

IF YOU think elite sport is undermined by reality TV you’re barmy. There’s no way that anyone actually thinks an Emmerdale actress, reality Z-lister or Bonnie Langford are actually competent as professional divers or figure skaters after being on a reality show.

Obviously they aren’t, that’s why they’re always paired with a professional or have Tom Daley plunging off the board before them to put them into perspective. In any case, if you think the point of the show is to make people into excellent athletes then you’ve missed the point. The idea behind the show is how hilarious it is to see amateurs try and tackle what are in fact incredibly difficult and taxing disciplines. We don’t want precision dives we want someone to belly flop and emerge swearing and come back to the surface covered in bruises.

Reality TV helps boost the profile of elite sports around the world. Splash! might have been launched from the Olympic zeitgeist that took the nation by storm in 2012, but it can surely only have helped to raise the profile of professional diving and inspired others to follow in the footsteps of Tom Daley. Likewise with Dancing on Ice, the show has served to enshrine Torvill & Dean’s performance to ‘Bolero’ in Sarajevo in 1984 as a national triumph and a supreme endeavour to be aspired towards. It is always the last dance to be performed because it is the most difficult and is now universally recognised as being incredibly challenging and that can only strengthen the profile of figure skating as an elite discipline.