Covering sports holistically

BY Archana Venkat| IN Media Practice | 27/06/2012
Incisive and comprehensive sports reportage is still a far cry in India.
British media’s coverage of London Olympics is a model, says ARCHANA VENKAT
The London Olympics 2012 is a little over a month away. Yet various aspects relating to the games have been covered diligently over the past four years, ever since the announcement was made that London would host the 2012 Olympics.
Almost everything including who constitutes the managing committee, how they were appointed and what role they will play, how much of the taxpayer’s money will go towards the games, the role of corporates in the games, opening ceremony plans, update on local players preparing for the games, tourist and other infrastructure development around the games, marketing channels used for the games, bidding process, recruitment of volunteers, and even the food at the Olympics venue has been covered more or less in an unbiased manner.
Compare that with the coverage of the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010. The first set of reports on the games appeared when we bagged the contract to host the games. After that there was a near six-year lull before reports started appearing on how some of the construction work was behind schedule or how some of the structures coming up would damage the ecological balance of the locality. About four months before the games were to commence, news broke of a possible scam in procurements. That was followed up by reportage that was in some way related to this alleged scam-- poor quality of housing for athletes, incomplete infrastructure for the games, disturbance to commuters in Delhi owing to frequent diversions, and no permanent solutions to traffic snarls, etc. Once the games started, the coverage focused mainly on athletic victories. Soon after the games concluded the government appointed the V.K. Shunglu Committee to look into the irregularities, and the media reported news of the investigation reports being submitted.
While this coverage is commendable, it missed out on several vital aspects. These included timely reportage on how the CWG committee was formed, the experience of the committee in handling games of that magnitude, information exchange on building any capabilities we did not have, the committee’s functioning, progress of the projects (not just glaring lapses that resulted in lag in completion), bidding process for various items, and other decisions made by the executive committee.
Had such information been periodically reported, it could have helped in identifying the irregularities early on and embark on course correction. This could have also avoided the reputation loss to the country and the bipartisan stand the media were forced to take.
This is not the only case of narrow piece-meal sports reporting. The IPL coverage under the Lalit Modi regime too chose to focus on obvious facts-- victories, defeats, and team strategies for the upcoming games. When the scam broke out, the focus remained primarily on the then proposed Kochi team and Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi and the latter’s dubious modus operandi. No details other than the amounts of money recovered by the Income Tax Department or the fact that NRI money was used to fund the teams were disclosed. If the same dubious sources and modus operandi had funded an industry such as banking, information technology or manufacturing, the reportage would have been far more comprehensive bordering on being investigative.
Why is it important to cover sports holistically?
Sports are increasingly seen as the only option for success for many talented youngsters from under developed States/underprivileged families. Spurred by recent successes, the nation is serious about grooming talent beyond cricket and nurturing smaller, less popular sports such as badminton, tennis, archery, rifle shooting, hockey, football, and wrestling. For many readers, keen to follow these sports, there is little reportage on how these games are run by the respective apex governing bodies, player selections, sources of funding for the sport, training, rankings (regional or international), and challenges faced by the players.
A case in point is the recent reportage of the tussle between players and the All India Tennis Association (AITA) on sending teams to the London Olympics 2012. Keen followers of the game would know that this was yet another ego issue and this time the players triumphed. It is public knowledge that players and tennis associations have had a rocky relationship across many countries and for many decades. Tennis was banned from the Olympics for close to 50 years till 1988, when the ATP and the International Olympic Association reconciled.
Had such background information been shared (or perhaps known to tennis reporters), the current AITA row could have been comprehensively (and knowledgeably) reported, instead of reporting it as a “Crisis in Indian tennis.”
Media scrutiny into the above mentioned aspects will not only give readers a wealth of knowledge, but also go a long way in improving the functioning of these apex bodies, boost sources of funding, bring more knowledgeable persons on the board, and have meaningful outcomes. In an era where good governance is stressed upon for good outcomes, it is necessary that the media report incisively and holistically on sports.
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