MOTD writes metric but speaks imperial

At last, the General Election campaign is over. And now, as we wait for the results,  Ronnie Cohen looks at something completely different: Match of the Day. Or is it?

For those of you not familiar with football, Match of the Day (MOTD) is television programme shown on the BBC, typically broadcast on Saturday and Sunday evenings. It shows highlights of Premier League football games and league games played earlier in the day and features interviews with players and managers after highlights of each game are shown and includes discussions of that game between the presenter and football pundits in the studio.

One thing that I have noticed in recent times is the tendency of MOTD to show graphics and statistics in metric units and I have a few examples of this phenomenon. On Saturday 14 January 2017, MOTD showed some statistics about Peter Crouch, a Stoke City striker, when he was playing against Sunderland in a Premier League match. It included his running distance on the football pitch in that game. The distance shown in the written statistics was 12.1 km. On Saturday 11 February, MOTD football pundits talked about the long distance an Arsenal player ran with the ball while the programme showed viewers a written graphic as he was running with a rising figure expressed in metres (i.e. a number followed by the “m” symbol). On Sunday 12 February, MOTD showed George Boyd, a Burnley winger, running across the pitch while MOTD showed viewers a graphic that expressed the distance from his starting point in metres, again a large figure followed by the “m” symbol. On Saturday 4 March, MOTD showed some statistics about Marco Arnautovic, a Stoke City player, when he was playing against Middlesbrough in a Premier League match. It included his speed of 34 km/h in the match. Yes, MOTD expressed that in km/h, a rarity in the UK!

Despite all the written information showing metric units, football pundits on MOTD almost always express distances in yards, rarely metres. I have yet to hear one expressing distances or parts of the pitch (e.g. the penalty box) in metres. Why is there such an inconsistency with distance information given by the BBC to the general public? What is going on? Is MOTD in transition to the metric system? It has been a while since I have heard any football pundit on that programme expressing any distances. Do they still do so? I wonder whether they will use yards or metres the next time they speak about distances on the pitch. I would be pleasantly surprised and pleased when they use metres.

Of course, the football of MOTD is a global phenomenon, and the Premier League relies on global audiences for much of the wealth it generates. However, in the USA the word ‘football’ means a completely different game to that played in the rest of the world. And US parochialism sees the continuing use of yards and feet. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are no metric units in either in graphics or commentaries in the game Americans alone know as ‘football’. And so we come back to a key question of the UK General Election, highlighted by MOTD: is Britain’s future parochial or global?

8 thoughts on “MOTD writes metric but speaks imperial”

  1. My experience listening to the BBC World Service radio is that units are always all over the map with metric and Imperial being spoken apparently almost randomly.


  2. First of all, I believe the choice of units spoken is dependent on the person doing the speakings personal preference.

    Second, since the distances are actually measured in metric and displayed in metric per the rules of the game, I’d be curious to know if the use of yards is a real translation of if the yards spoken are really metres under a false name. Does the speaker translate or just change the words? Like, the road signs that say yards but are really hidden metres.

    If yards are more often than not hidden metres, then the government needs to redefine the yard as meaning 1 m.


  3. No wonder other countries are confused about our situation, are we metric or imperial. Just pick a side and stay their, It’s getting stupid now.



    The article from Der Spiegel does not mention metrication, but with the outcome of the recent British election and the loss of power for the conservatives demanding a hard Brexit, one has to ask what will be the future of metrication?

    After the Brexit vote last year, the media was awash in articles salivating at the prospect of returning to imperial units. This would only be possible with a hard brexit and a strong conservative government willing and able to take Britain down that path. Now that the conservatives no longer have that mandate and a hard brexit is dead, what will be the future of metrication?

    It is no secret that many European ministers are upset with the whole Brexit scenario, but more so due to the British attitude and arrogance towards Europe. Now that arrogance has been nipped in the bud and there is a possibility that the EU will play hard ball. It wouldn’t surprise me if the EU reopened the EEC 80/181 directive and made it apply 100 % to the UK, meaning that the UK could be forced to complete metrication.

    Any path that the UK is forced to take in negotiations with the EU will certainly be positive as far as metrication is concerned. Even if the status quo remains, at least the prospects of a reversal are dead.


  5. “Yes, MOTD expressed that in km/h, a rarity in the UK!”
    True, so true. In fact Daily Telegraph journalists use gibberish such as kph. Presumably this is how the abbreviation of kilometres per hour is listed in the DT Style Guide.


  6. @Daniel Jackson,
    “Second, since the distances are actually measured in metric and displayed in metric per the rules of the game”

    The FIFA rules give both metric and Imperial definitions of the field area and ball, including two separate diagrams on page 13.

    The metric values for the goal area, etc were obviously converted from original Imperial. Both diagrams are sensibly rounded, and important dimensions agree to about a centimeter, less important dimensions to a decimeter, and length and width to a meter or so. The ball also has subtle differences. The rules basically define slightly different metric and Imperial games. (I assume it would not be acceptable to mix the definitions). See rules at:

    Click to access LawsofthegamewebEN_Neutral.pdf


  7. @ John Steele:

    The rules give both, but the distances are measured in metric and the other is ignored. They don’t measure in both because both are listed in the rule book. Those doing the announcing don’t receive measured distances in imperial or USC, but in metric and they personally convert the measured values. The metric values in the rules book are in the primary, default position.


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