- Eddie McGuire, 2012
A little over half way through the London 2012 Olympic Games, Australia is a nation of bewildered sports fans. How is it possible to be so proud and disappointed and disgusted and delighted all at the same time?
Try asking Eddie McGuire or Ray Hadley. Their attempts to answer the question will be all the answer you need. Expect to hear collections of syllables grouped into word-like verbal farts that carry meaning only to those on drugs. There will be groups of true, recognisable words assembled into an order that would make Strunk and/or White weep. And there are comments, well thought out, ably executed, which are completely nonsensical, and others designed to be as offensive as possible.
We have the very best expert commentary available from experienced athletes who've been there: Susie O'Neill, Liz Chetkovich, Robert DeCastella, Lucinda Green, Matt Shirvington, Lisa Forrest... They may not have the vocabulary or ease behind the microphone, but they have common sense, and seem to be able to behave themselves while the "professionals" sound second-rate.
And yet, this Olympics, the coverage is literally better than ever before. We have nine or ten channels bringing us live pictures of Olympic events through the night. I say nine or ten, because I don't know whether to count Nine and its digital echo as one channel or two. Foxtel has eight dedicated channels. There's even a 3D option, but does anyone even own a 3D tellie?
Even in 2D, our pictures are in brilliant high definition, with ultra-slo-mo action to showcase every fresh bead of sweat on the world's best athletes, all against the ghastly pink and purple and blue bunting of London 2012. We even have social media to bring us each moment from every angle, with commentary from the athletes themselves. This is quite simply the best ever coverage of an Olympic Games in history.
And the worst.
Channel Nine and Foxtel have taken Boofhead Commentary where it's never been before. I doubt that some of the talking heads could graduate from primary school. Aside from the never-ending massacre of spoken English, there are other challenges for these overhyped hosts.
Eddie McGuire has been getting into all sorts of pain with his "R"s, particularly during the Women's Marathon. He simply could not pronounce Australian runner Jess Trengove's name correctly. More often than not, he attached an extra "R" after the "G", making the second syllable "Grove" instead of "gove". The word "Performance" got the McGuire treatment too, becoming "preformance" more than once. Should we be surprised? Of course not: this is the same television personality who hosted Australia's "Who Wants to Be A Mooyonaire" for several years.
Apparently maths can be troublesome too, even when the sums can be completed on the digits of one of Homer Simpson's hands. The hosts have computers to provide the important information about athlete performances, records, splits, reaction times and twist velocities. They don't have to calculate much themselves, or even remember much. It's the basic mental arithmetic that throws up the challenges for these guys.
“There are our five leaders: two Kenyans, an Ethiopian and a Russian."
- Eddie McGuire
Ray Hadley isn't likely to be considered a statesman any time soon. He's adequate when it comes to calling the swimming races, but he should leave the geography to the high school kids. Several times, early on in the swimming competition, he must have seen the country abbreviation "CZE" and flashed back to 1992, duly announcing various swimmers as being from Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia is a country which ceased to exist twenty years ago. Perhaps being accurate doesn't matter to Mr Hadley but it matters to the Czechs and the Slovaks who formed separate nations in 1993, and to the athletes representing those two countries now.
It's a rookie mistake. Mr Hadley is not a rookie, not that you'd know that from his fascinating attempts to pronounce Kyrgyzstan. Not everyone can be George Donikian, but a commentator at the world's biggest sporting event should get the countries right, at least. (It's Keer-gis-tan, by the way.)
Mr Hadley wasn't satisfied with passing out accidental insults to Europeans; he needed to get in someone's face. Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph ran a story about Mr Hadley making friends with another commentator who asked him to sit down during Emily Seebohm's 100m Backstroke Final - a reasonable request to ensure that everyone could see. Over the course of 24 hours, Mr Hadley's response included a few choruses of "Fuck off", one verse featuring "You French Fuckwit..." (the European was Belgian, not French), one "Piss off you Belgian Pest", and a surprise solo from backing vocalist/sidekick Rebecca Wilson with "He told you to fuck off, so fuck off."
I've been unable to locate Foxtel Employee Code of Conduct, but I imagine it's similar to other corporate Codes of Conduct. I'm confident that telling a commentator from another country to fuck off falls far short of acceptable behaviour. There's a good chance that it could be seen as Workplace Bullying, and as such would be a sackable offence.
Meanwhile, both McGuire and Hadley are repeat offenders in calling female competitors "girls". Here's a free tip for them: Don't do that. It makes the female athletes angry.
Here's another free tip for Mr McGuire and Mr Hadley: let the BBC pictures and the expert athletes do their jobs. Unless you're being paid by the word, speak as little as possible.