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BBC1…Fern Britton meets Christine Ohuruogu

22 Dec

Christine Ohuruogu is arguably the most successful female athlete the United Kingdom has ever produced, more successful than Jessica Ennis, Mary Peters, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis or even Kelly Holmes, but a casual observer of athletics would never know that.

To say she has a very low key profile would be an over statement, why is that?  This is a lady who has won two consecutive Olympic medals, a gold in Beijing 2008 and a silver in London 2012, she has won five World Championship medals stretching from 2005 to this year across the 400 m individual and 400m relay events, and also numerous other medals in Indoor, European and Commonwealth Championships.

In BBC1′s series Fern Britton Meets, Fern set out to find what was the story behind Christine Ohuruogu.

One of the reasons that has long been given as the reason for the public and media’s reluctance to embrace Christine as a British sporting icon was the her ban in 2006 for missing three drug tests.

That headline alone meant she got tagged alongside athletes who were known to intentionally and repeatedly cheat, but in doing so it did her a massive disservice and harm to her reputation.

Most people would have never read the detail of the report that followed the investigation into her missed drug tests. If they had they would have read this

On the occasion of the third missed test, she failed to notify testers of a switch of training venue to Crystal Palace when she discovered her usual base at Mile End Stadium was hosting a school sports day.

But just nine days earlier, at the European Championship trials in Manchester, Ohuruogu had been asked to give a sample to testers after finishing fifth in the 200m. It came back negative.

Then, three days after the missed test, she was tested again, this time at the British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, where she had finished last. Again, the results were negative.

and this

“In fairness, the committee should make clear its view as to the limited degree of fault attributed to her. This was a minor unintentional infraction of the regime due only to forgetfulness.

There is no suggestion, nor any grounds for suspicion, that the offence may have been deliberate in order to prevent testing. The omissions are too haphazard for any such suspicion to arise.

“The athlete was tested negative on several occasions during this period and has always co-operated with doping control officers. She did notify changes to her schedule on many occasions but failed in these three instances. Those failures are understandable given all the circumstances.

“Accordingly, if the committee had… a discretion to order a fair penalty, we would have imposed a sanction of three months, consistent with the [World Anti Doping Agency] code. But… the committee is obliged under IAAF rules to impose a fixed penalty of one year’s ineligibility.”

However in the frenzy of the sound bite driven media world we live in detail is often the first victim.

Fern sought out explore this and other issues with Christine. What we got was a calm, humble and articulate athlete. A woman who does not need the oxygen of media publicity to thrive, and arguably seeks to avoid it. Her bedrock was built on three things, a tight-knit family, a strong religious faith, and a bond with her community.

Her faith in her innocence saw her through the dark days of her ban from her athletics, and the belief of the people who surrounded her helped propel her back into the upper echelons of the sport she loves.

She may never become the face of athletics in the UK, but you got a sense from the interview that her heart does not  lie in that direction. She was seemingly more comfortable going round the schools of Newham her local borough, which she does often, spreading inspirational messages to the next generation of British sportsmen and women.

It may have all been a puff-piece to rehabilitate her image, but I personally came a way with a sense that what we saw was the real Christine Ohuruogu.

Channel 5…The Bible

1 Dec

As the UK becomes more secular it is increasingly rare to have programmes with overtly religious overtones on mainstream TV, and certainly not in a prime time Saturday slot.

There is still Songs of Praise on BBC1 on Sunday, but this is increasingly just a travelogue of historic churches mixed in with some choir singing (all the rage at the moment thanks to Gareth Malone and his programmes on choirs).

Channel 5 have decided to singlehandedly reverse the trend with their new Saturday night prime time mini-series “The Bible“. What’s even more unusual about this programme is that it is also sponsored by two religious organisations Spring Harvest and WhatIsInTheBible. It is rare seeing religious programmes on mainstream TV but it is even rarer to see overtly religious sponsors. It is also kind of ironic that is all on Channel 5, a channel that was once known to the readers of the Daily Mail as “Channel Filth” for its less than christian programming output.

As a source for epic stories of faith, betrayal, redemption, love and much more there is nothing better than the bible.  From the creation of the earth to the horsemen of Apocalypse, the stories in the Bible would leave seasoned script-writers green with envy. So the series does have potential with tried and tested material available to it.

The first series which took us from Adam and Eve through to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. For a mini-series it did not blow me away but was okay, although I am not sure how easy it would be to follow by people not familiar with the Bible.

There is also bound to be comparisons with some great biblical epics of the past like Cecil B DeMille’s  Ten Commandments and Franco Zeferelli’s Jesus Of Nazareth. The epic confrontation between a passionately enraged Charlton Heston (Moses) and sinewed and obstinate Yul Brynner (Pharaoh) in the Ten Commandments makes the The Bible’s telling of the same story like an amateur dramatic society’s production, a comparison compounded by the The Bible’s casting of a particularly chubby and unthreatening Pharaoh.

All in all  The Bible is a mildly engaging watch more suited as a matinee on a lazy Sunday afternoon when nothing else is on, and not going head with the Saturday night juggernauts of ITV’s X-Factor and BBC’s Casualty, where it is certainly to swept aside like numerous enemies of the Israelites in the ratings war.

If you enjoyed the series, or missed out. The entire mini-series is now available from Amazon.