Sport Relief and Red Nose Day drop stars from foreign appeal films

Ed SheeranImage copyright
Comic Relief

Image caption

Ed Sheeran made a Comic Relief film in Liberia last year

Sport Relief won’t show appeal films fronted by celebrities in developing countries after complaints that they were akin to “poverty tourism”.

Sport Relief, which is on TV on the BBC on Friday, takes place every other year, alternating with Red Nose Day.

The Comic Relief charity runs both events and said future films would just feature people who live in those countries speaking for themselves.

David Lammy MP had said they portrayed Africans as “victims to be pitied”.

The Sport Relief and Red Nose Day telethons usually feature clips of well-known personalities meeting people in Africa and other countries where the charity works.

‘Local heroes’

But Comic Relief chief executive Liz Warner said they were changing their approach.

She told The Guardian: “You’ll see the films we put into Sports Relief are a step towards that, towards change.

“People talking in the first person in their own voices, with local heroes and local heroines talking to us about the work they’re doing.

“You won’t see a celebrity standing in front of people talking about them. You’ll see people talking for themselves.”

Sport Relief, which aims to raise millions for disadvantaged people in the UK and around the world, is a week-long event this year, culminating in the live broadcast on Friday night.

‘So grateful’ for support

A Comic Relief spokesman said: “We’ve been saying for a while there’s an evolution going on. We’re trying to give bigger voices to the local heroes we work with.”

But he added that the charity was “always going to want to work with celebrities”, adding that they had helped raise millions of pounds as well as awareness over the years.

“We are so, so grateful for their support,” he said.

The charity plans to enlist more celebrities to speak about issues that are close to their hearts – such as with Zoe Ball’s cycling challenge to raise awareness of male mental health.

A 2017 Red Nose Day film fronted by Ed Sheeran, about street children in Liberia, was named the “most offensive” campaign last year by a fundraising pressure group.

In it, the singer was seen meeting a young boy before offering to pay for a hotel for him and his friends. The Radi-Aid awards said it was almost “poverty tourism”.

Earlier this month, David Lammy made a film for BBC Two’s Daily Politics, saying Comic Relief had “tattooed images of poverty in Africa to our national psyche” – and was not showing the full reality of life on the continent.

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Media captionDavid Lammy says African people are “equals to be respected, not as victims to be pitied”.

“Sports Relief should be helping to establish the people of Africa as equals to be respected, not as victims to be pitied,” he said.

“So, rather than getting celebrities to act as tour guides, why not get Africans to talk for themselves about the continent and the problems that they know?”

‘We’re not perfect’

Liz Warner added: “The portrayal of African is not solely in the hands of Comic Relief. We are here to tell the story of poverty wherever it lies…

“We don’t proclaim to be perfect by any means, it’s a journey we’re on and we’re not perfect.”

Friday’s Sport Relief will include a film about street children in Uganda. It will be introduced by Rio Ferdinand, but he will not appear in the clip himself. Instead, it will feature the children and a charity worker.

Stars will appear in films about the UK, though. John Bishop will front a clip about a project near his home in the north-west of England, while new mum Alex Jones will be seen raising awareness of maternal mental health issues.

Highlights of Sport Relief will include Andy Murray being awoken in the middle of the night by Michael McIntyre to take part in a quiz, a live five-a-side football match and six celebrities going head-to-head in boxing matches.

Sport Relief is on BBC One from 19:00 on Friday.

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