My favourite this week came during the debate over the decision of the BBC to share coverage of Formula 1 with Sky so they’ll have enough money to pay for Wimbledon.
A lot of people are very cross about this and have even started an online petition to prevent it happening. They think it is the thin end of the wedge and before you know it, motor racing won’t be available on free to air tv and we’ll be forced to tip more cash into Rupert Murdoch’s coffers.
The phone-in caller who made me smile though was the one who saw it as a betrayal of public service broadcasting values, but lost his way when he argued that it should be Wimbledon that is sacrificed on the grounds that it is an elitist sport. In the way that Formula 1 isn’t, I suppose.
After all, budding tennis stars need to have parents who are rich enough to buy them at least two bats and a full box of Slazengers, plus the coaching and stuff, whereas in the “people’s game” of motor racing, any kid on any sink estate can knock up a 200mph bogey from bits of wood and discarded pram wheels.
They can then hone their driving skills on cobbled streets while family and friends join in by hanging around outside dad’s shed as pit crew, ready with bits of string to replace the steering mechanism.
You could from the hesitation in the callers voice that he was embarrassed at his choice of argument even as he struggled manfully to justify his point. But if amateur pundits make me smile, the so-called experts have me shouting at the radio.
For example, there was the question of whether cyclists should be required by law to wear helmets. This followed a BMJ survey that claims that 68% of doctors are against this on the grounds that it sends out the wrong message that cycling is dangerous.
In the pro-helmet corner of the debate was Beverley Turner, wife of Olympic rower James Cracknell who sufferred serious head injuries last year when he was knocked off his bike by a truck. She made the sensible point that actually cycling can be dangerous and it is a bit silly to try and persuade people otherwise.
But it was Jason Torrance on the other side of the argument who made me cross. Surprisingly, he is the policy manager for Sustrans, the road safety charity.
He claimed that cycling was relatively low risk and that of the 3,000 people killed on the road each year, very few were cyclists. When pushed on actual numbers, he burbled a bit, then claimed it was “not even more than five.”
That didn’t sound right to me and a quick check on the RoSPA website told me that there are over a hundred cyclist deaths each year and around 2,600 serious injuries. Furthermore, three-quarters of deaths involved major head injuries.
Why the “expert” should be so poorly briefed, I don’t know, and even if you accept his basic premise that far more motorists are killed than cyclists, it doesn’t take account of the relative numbers of cars and bikes on the road, nor the average speed, nor the distance travelled.
Having argued that cycling was safe, he then contradicted himself by saying that the answer to the problem he claims doesn’t exist is to reduce the speed limit in urban areas so that these cyclists who aren’t being knocked off their bikes won’t have as far to fall if they do.
Setting aside that half of cycling fatalities occur on rural roads, he then completely shot his credibility by saying that “research” showed that compulsory helmet-wearing would put people off cycling, without backing up his claims in any way.
I have no strong views either way on the subject, or at least I didn’t until listening to this “expert” who convinced me that he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.