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Sporting Witness


The inside and personal story of the key moments from sporting history


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The inside and personal story of the key moments from sporting history




The first hijabi figure skater

In 2012, Zahra Lari from the UAE, made history by becoming the first figure skater to compete in a hijab. When she was 17 she took part in her first international competition, and although her routine went well, the judges deducted points for her headscarf. After the competition, she met with the International Skating Union and convinced them that the rules should allow the hijab to be worn, with no further deductions being made. (Photo: Zahra Lari of UAE competes during FBMA Trophy for Figure Skating 2017 at Zayed Sports City on 5 January, 2017 in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Getty Images)


Chuck Wepner: The real-life Rocky who floored Ali

When part-time fighter Chuck Wepner is given a shot to fight heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in 1975, no one gives him a chance. But his heroism in the ring knocked down all expectations, including those of the champ, and inspired a cinematic saga in the process. He speaks to Ben Wyatt about the build up and the big fight itself. This is a Comuniqé production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Chuck Wepner takes a swing at Muhammad Ali in the second round of their heavyweight title bout in March 1975. Credit: Getty Images)


Rugby's greatest upset

In 2015, Japan’s Rugby Union team pulled off one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time, when they beat South Africa in their opening match of the World Cup in England. The Brave Blossoms’ win over one of the giants of world rugby would have been unimaginable before the team’s remarkable transformation under its captain Michael Leitch and head coach Eddie Jones. Michael Leitch spoke to Theo Whyte about the match, and how a last minute decision changed Japanese rugby forever. This is a Whistledown production for BBC World Service. (Photo: Karne Hesketh of Japan scores the winning try during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on September 19th 2015. Credit: Getty Images)


The first cricket helmet

In 1977 English batsman Dennis Amiss became the first cricket player in the modern game to wear protective headgear. Derided and taunted by spectators, as well as some players, the pioneering use of head protection revolutionised pitch safety. He speaks to Wayne Wright about the profound effect in had on the sport. This is a Made in Manchester Production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: 10th June 1974: Dennis Amiss in action against India in the first test at Old Trafford. Amiss was later to a wear cricket helmet for protection from 1977. Credit: Getty Images)


Pat Rafter wins The US Open

In September 1997, the Australian tennis player Pat Rafter was the surprise winner of the US Open. Dismissed as a “fluke” victory by John McEnroe, Rafter returned to Flushing Meadows the following year to retain the title and also became world number one. Pat Rafter talks to Ashley Byrne about the victories and his career. The programme is a Made-In-Manchester Production. (Photo: Pat Rafter in action during the Men's Singles Final at The US Open in Flushing, New York on September 7th, 1997. Credit: Getty Images)


Cricket's Blackwash test series

In 1984, the West Indies celebrated a 5-0 test series defeat of England on British soil - a historic cricketing victory that became known as Blackwash. But for Windies fans, it was more than just a record score-line. It was also recognition at a time when many British Caribbean communities were suffering racism, unemployment and poverty. They flooded onto the pitch to celebrate, unfurling a banner in bold painted letters which read ‘Blackwash’. It had a huge impact, as West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding tells Jane Wilkinson. (Photo: Blackwash banner, The Oval, 1984. Credit: Allsport/Getty Images)


The first female NBA referee

In 1997, Violet Palmer made history by becoming the first female referee in the NBA. During her career she faced sexism and discrimination. Violet tells Gill Kearsley about the anticipation and excitement of refereeing her first match. (Photo: Violet Palmer in 2013. Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)


Nigeria's path to the Women's World Cup

The Nigerian national women’s football team were the first African team to reach the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup Tournament in China in 1991. Justice Baidoo speaks to Nkiri Okosieme – who captained the hastily assembled squad – and hears how they overcame opposition to claim their tournament spot. This programme is a Made in Manchester Production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Nigeria goalkeepr Oyeka Anna Agumanu and Omon-Love Branch try to stop German Heidi Mohr's attack during the group C match on November 17, 1991 at the Jiangmen stadium at first FIFA World Championship for Women's Football. Credit: Getty Images)


First women's Tour de France

To mark the final stages of this year's Tour de Femmes, Marianne Martin talks about winning the first official women’s Tour De France in 1984. She rode the 1,080km course in 29 hours, 39 minutes, and two seconds over 18 days – a remarkable feat considering she’d had anaemia earlier in that year. The 1984 men’s champion Laurent Fignon won prizes valued at more than $225,000. Marianne Martin was awarded a trophy and $1,000. This is a Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service is presented by Ashley Byrne. (Photo: Marianne Martin with her team mates in Paris after winning the Tour de France in 1984. Credit: Graham Watson)


The first Women's World Cup sticker album

Panini have been making World Cup sticker albums since 1970, but in 2011 they decided to make the first one for the women's tournament being held in Germany. Only available in the host country, they sold more than 4.5 million packets of stickers in two weeks. They had to print a million more stickers to keep up with demand. Roxanne König from Panini in Germany speaks to Uma Doraiswamy about how the album was created and its popularity. (Photo: Panini stickers for the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011. Credit: Getty Images)


Jana Novotna: From choker to champion

In 1993, the Czech player Jana Novotna threw away a huge lead in the ladies' final at Wimbledon but captured the hearts of tennis fans by breaking down in tears on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, the tournament's patron. Five years later, Novotna was back on Centre Court and this time she won. She tells her story to Kirsty McQuire. Jana Novotna died of ovarian cancer in 2017. The programme is a Sparklab Production for the BBC World Service and was first broadcast in 2015. (Photo: Czech tennis player Jana Novotna is consoled by the Duchess of Kent after losing the women's singles final at the 1993 Wimbledon Championships, held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, 3 July 1993. Credit: Getty Images)


Chris Lewis shocks Wimbledon

In the summer of 1983, New Zealand tennis player Chris Lewis reached the Wimbledon men’s singles final, despite being ranked 91 in the world. Although it shocked the tournament, Lewis had been targeting it since he was 11 years old, when he watched tennis greats including Rod Laver and Tony Roche play in his home country. (Photo: Chris Lewis (left) of New Zealand and John McEnroe of the USA during the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship Final held in June 1983 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London. Credit: Getty Images)


The first Homeless World Cup

On 6 July 2003, the first matches of the Homeless World Cup kicked off in Graz, Austria. The idea came from Mel Young and Harald Schmied. Mel talks to Kurt Brookes about the first tournament and how it continues to help change perceptions about homelessness. A Made in Manchester Production for BBC World Service. (Photo: Scotland play Poland in the Homeless World Cup played in Graz, Austria. Credit: Homeless World Cup Foundation)


Shun Fujimoto - Japan's injured Olympic hero

At the 1976 Olympics, the Japanese gymnast Shun Fujimoto horrified the world by continuing to compete in the team event despite breaking his knee during the floor exercise. Determined not to let down his team-mates, Fujimoto braved almost unbearable pain to achieve good scores on the pommel horse and rings, and help Japan to gold. Shun Fujimoto relives his agony with Ashley Byrne. The programme is a Made-In-Manchester Production for the BBC World Service and was first broadcast in 2016. (Photo: Shun Fujimoto on the rings. Credit: Colorsport/Shutterstock)


Mitchell Johnson's Ashes

After being ridiculed by the English fans and media following his dismal performance in the 2010-2011 Ashes series, Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson proved himself on home ground in 2013 by destroying England’s batting order. Taking 37 wickets and being named Player of the Series, Johnson dominated the tests which became known as Johnson's Ashes. He speaks to the BBC as part of their coverage of the 2023 Ashes series. (Photo: Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Alastair Cook of England during day three of the Fourth Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Getty)


Man Vs Horse

Can a man ever beat a horse in a foot race? Every year since 1980, a small town in Wales has been trying to find out. Laurence Bassett speaks to long distance runner Huw Lobb and race creator Gordon Green about the 2004 race when, for the first time, two legs outran four. This is a TBI Media production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Huw Lobb winner of the Man v Horse race stands with the fastest rival horse Kaybeejay and rider Zoe White from Llandrindod Wells after the 2004 race. Credit: PA)


Albert Johanneson: The first black FA Cup finalist

In 1965, South African Albert Johanneson became the first black player of any nationality to take part in the FA Cup final. Willie Bell remembers what he was like as a Leeds United teammate. This is a Made in Manchester production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Leeds United left-winger Albert Johanneson, March 1965. Credit: Getty Images)


The Arsenal 'Invincibles'

In May 2003, Arsenal started on an unbeaten run that would last for 49 Premier League games. The team became known as 'The Invincibles'. They were the first team to go unbeaten all season since Preston North End in 1888. Former Arsenal defender, Lauren, and British comedian, Alan Davies, speak to Matt Pintus about that team. (Photo: Arsenal celebrate winning the 2003/2004 Premier League. Credit: Getty Images)


Kabaddi’s Asian Games golden debut

The 2010 Asian Games in China saw women’s kabaddi included at the event for the first time. Deepika Joseph was the youngest person ever to represent her country in the sport. Kabaddi is an Indian contact sport which involves holding your breath while chanting kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi. Deepika speaks to Reena Stanton-Sharma about competing and triumphing in the tournament and how winning gold helped to change the public’s perception of female sports in India. (Photo: Deepika Joseph (centre) at the 16th Asian Games in 2010. Credit: Liu Jin/AFP./Getty Images)


Battle of Bramall Lane

On 16 March 2002, Sheffield United vs West Bromwich Albion, at Bramall Lane, became the only match in English football history to be abandoned due to a shortage of players. After three Sheffield players were sent off, two got injured, meaning they were down to six men. Rachel Naylor speaks to referee Eddie Wolstenholme, who was forced to call the game off. (Photo: Referee Eddie Wolstenholme, caught in the middle of a melee between Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion players, at Bramall Lane. Credit: Press Association)