Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
27 February 2019updated 03 Aug 2021 3:40pm

Sporting Witness: a sports history programme that moves blithely between archive, interview and conversation

Episodes cover everything from the beginnings of downhill skiing to the invention of the sports bra.

By Antonia Quirke

The problems with the two-star-rated BBC Sounds app rumble on. Complaints range from, “Why do I have to pick at that tiny little sliding bar to move forward and back?” to a rage-condensed, “This is really quite annoying.” But there are higher hopes for the new World Service English app, created to access news and radio programmes in 35 countries outside the UK “where mobile data is expensive or internet coverage limited”. The success of the World Service was the one bit of good news in the latest Rajar figures – an increase in the tough weekly UK audience: 1.55 million, up from 1.51 million last year (globally, the WS’s reach is upwards of a head-lolling 279 million).

I often marvel at the finely calibrated tone of the English language content. Clarity is ever the keynote (there’s always a slightly clunking checking-everybody-is-on-the-same-page moment in programmes) but otherwise, so much isn’t remotely overdetermined, certainly in terms of formatting. Take Sporting Witness, a sports history programme that moves blithely between archive, interview and conversation to tell a story. “A jockstrap, if you’re unfamiliar with the term,” checked presenter Rebecca Kesby with a twinkle, “is a piece of supportive underwear worn by men.”

Seconds later, the American interviewee Lisa Lindahl recalled how she invented the sports bra in 1977 after a friend’s husband came downstairs to breakfast wearing a jockstrap on his head, which she then put on hers and eased it down to her bosom (some breakfast). An episode about the invention of downhill skiing by the British in the early 1900s used archive so well cleaned-up it sounded, bar the antique locutions, like it had been recorded yesterday.

Just occasionally that WS briskness can make for oversimplifications. “Of course, skiing had existed before this time,” rattled presenter Simon Watts, “but that had been mostly Scandinavian, for hunting trips.” I thought mournfully of Nobel peace laureate Fridtjof Nansen, crossing Greenland’s unmapped ice cap in 1888 on skis and with trusty bamboo ski poles in the name of science, carrying five litres of drinking chocolate and the notes for his mind-blowing 1893 travelogue Eskimo Life… but, hey. 

Sporting Witness
BBC World Service

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes

This article appears in the 27 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit broke politics