April’s announcement that the long-standing SBS website The World Game would be discontinued brought no joy to anyone interested in football in Australia.
For most, images of NSL days, Les Murray and Johnny Warren at the helm of World Cup tournaments and the consistent effort to send the game into the home of as many Australians as possible, are all connected to the SBS brand.
The World Game became symbolic of a passionate and well-intentioned desire to bring the beautiful game into the hearts and minds of many curious Australians, those not yet completely infatuated with the most popular and compelling game on the planet.
SBS did a sterling job through its weekly television program of the same name launched in 2001. The website followed a year later and became the last remaining platform in what was a staple for football fans across Australia.
The national broadcaster was always there, even in the direst hour of need when Optus Sport’s streaming service blew a gasket in the early stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Lucy Zelic and Craig Foster steered the ship, the event came across superbly from thousands of kilometres away and the website continued to churn out story after story, image after image and drama after controversy in another gripping version of the world’s biggest sporting event.
Sadly for some and as broadcasting rights shifted around in both free-to-air and pay television realms, SBS has been effectively left out in the cold.
2021-22 will see the Special Broadcasting Service with no rights to A or W-League play and potentially no involvement in the game post the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Network Ten and Paramount+ have swooped in a fashion so longed for by the Australian football public.
With cycling a key component in its arsenal, Mike Tomalaris and his commentary team have continued to bring informed content and stunning pictures into the homes and minds of Australian fans during SBS’s Tour de France coverage for a quarter of a century.
However, during Monday night’s broadcast, Tomalaris and his offsiders gave a cutting reminder to us all of the fickle and cut-throat nature of broadcasting rights and the ease with which an SBS allegiance to football can be jettisoned.
After a series of horrific crashes across the opening two days of the race, amidst all the excitement and drama of Euro 2020 and just prior to a commercial break, Tomalaris turned to former cyclist David McKenzie, looking for mirth.
McKenzie is most famous for his victory on Stage 7 of the 2000 Giro d’Italia and listened intently as the host took a dig at football and the courage of the athletes that play it.
Tomalaris: “I wonder if some European footballers were able to bounce back if they were on a bike after crashing?
McKenzie: “Zero chance of that, if a clip to the heel takes them down, I think 60 kilometres per hour in lycra…….no chance.”
All the while, former Olympic representative Kate Bates chuckled away in the background.
In truth, it was pathetic and she held far more credibility than both of them in that moment.
Tomalaris could have chosen any example of something less tough, courageous and gutsy than cycling. The fact that he chose football made me wonder, reflect and become extremely cynical.
It might seem like a minor issue but one can only imagine what the late Les Murray would have thought in that moment after all the work he did to build up football on the channel.
Strangely enough, the opening image in Network Ten’s weekly quiz show Have You Been Paying Attention was one of Melbourne City celebrating its recent A-League championship.
Funny really. I can’t imagine why that was the case.