How should sport cover controversy? Lean in, or stick to the on-pitch action? Sky had two tricky assignments this weekend, one it would have invested thought in preparing for, and one which emerged, from left-field, in real time.
Kelly Cates hosted Sky’s coverage of the Carabao Cup final and, as you would expect from such a safe pair of hands, took the five-iron off the tee. “Football does not exist in a vacuum,” she said, and explained the situation with Roman Abramovich, his ownership, and the recent statements from him and the club. You would not necessarily look to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Jamie Redknapp for insights on a topic this complex or, the unkind might say, on any topic at all.
Once Hasselbaink had shrugged his way through a non-committal: “The players have a match to play,” the viewer might have been fearing a bland, nothing-to-see-here bluewash. Graeme Souness, on Wolves duty, had worn a yellow (and blue) ribbon but the Sky squad at Wembley were unadorned in the lapel department.
But who’s this? Yes, it’s Gary Neville. What did you think of Roman’s statement, Gary?
“If anything I thought it was a cowardly thing to do, to be fair, to throw a hospital pass to people on the charity and foundation board when it is quite clear he runs the club with Marina [Granovskaia] and Petr Cech. These owners of the top-six clubs are insulated from reality. They think they can surround themselves with a smart PR team and con us with fancy words, but unfortunately it does not work.”
Ah Gary. Never change. Overall, Sky did a good job here, managing to take in the high feeling around Chelsea’s ownership while acknowledging that plenty of people turn on a football match to get away from the real world.
The Abramovich affair was not the only controversial sporting event on Sky this weekend. The day before, the same broadcaster showed the Josh Taylor fight. Given he is an undisputed four-belt world champion, it is puzzling Taylor is not more of a big deal, but there was surely never any chance of this being viable as a pay-per-view offering. Instead, his fight was on regular Sky Sports: a wider audience, and perhaps a mixed blessing as a result. Like the League Cup final, elements of it represented a poser for Sky: specifically, the judges’ verdict, universally regarded as a shocker.