Catching the action

Anukriti Sharma and Vinaya Patil
Sunday, 2 July 2017

On World Sports Journalists Day, Anukriti Sharma and Vinaya Patil catch up with reporters who fondly talk about the thrill of their job, their equation with sports stars, and how technology has changed the way they communicate.

When 20-year-old substitute Mario Gotze scored  1-0 in the second half of extra-time against Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio and clinched the  FIFA football World Cup for Germany in 2014, commentators went berserk. Watch the magical moments on YouTube and you can see and experience the hysteria of the commentators and the audience. 

When ace shuttler PV Sindhu bagged the silver medal at Rio Olympics in 2016, reams of newsprint were devoted to her historic win. From her childhood training to her present-day coach Pullela Gopichand to her parents who made immense sacrifices to shape her career, sports journalists unearthed detailed statistics about the golden girl of Indian badminton. 

On World Sports Journalists Day (July 2), we chat up a few eminent journalists who have been catching all the excitement on field, and passing on the energy and vibes to ardent fans. They also throw light on emerging technology and how it is changing  communication and the world of sports and journalism.

Technological evolution

“To be a good sports journalist, you have to be passionate about the subject and respect the performance on the field. Not always does one win. Sports and sports journalism teach you to accept defeat gracefully,” says Vijay Lokapally who started his career with the India-England Test in Delhi in 1981 and has been with The Hindu since 1986. 

Talking about how technology has completely changed the face of journalism, Lokapally says, “There is a lot of difference from the time I started out to the present day. We had the advantage of being descriptive about what happened on field. We had to gather the information on our own and reporters used to be the eyes and ears of people. Back then, TV was not so intruding and people relied and believed that the reporter would not mislead them. Also, we used to be worried about how we would send our reports to office since we  relied on telegram first and later, fax. Those would be tense moments but now technology has changed communication.”

Even press conferences would be much more calmer and intimate as compared to the mayhem that is observed now. He adds, “Can you imagine an interview of Sachin Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja with only two reporters? Now, during a press conference there will be 50 cameras and 150 reporters, and you have to sit peacefully to ask your questions and listen to their answers.”

“Always on field, active and alert — this is how a sports journalist’s life can be described,” says Vinayak Dalvi, sports editor at Dainik Divya Marathi. Speaking of his career spanning almost four decades, Dalvi says that covering sports has always given him the best of memories and experiences. Dalvi later went on to work with a Marathi daily  where he spent 30 years.

He covered India’s West Indies tour in 1989. “It was the pre-internet era. I remember there was one fax machine at the General Post Office (GPO) at Fort, Mumbai. I would send my typed copy there. It was an amazing experience,” he reminisces. He also shares his memory of writing on butter papers to reduce the weight of paper that he would courier from the Asian Games venue.

Not all was hunky dory for the senior journalist though. “There would be times when crucial copies wouldn’t make it into print owing to several reasons. It would break my heart given the amount of hard work and effort that would go into getting those stories and interviews,” he sighs.

Now, such communication-related issues barely exist. The internet and technology have made life easier for journalists. “But at the same time, quality seems to be taking a beating in the race for winning the time game. Readers too are easily distracted now. It’s tougher to engage them,” he believes.

Reporting then and now
Talking about how his generation of journalists never went to any school for ‘learning’ their work, Dalvi says, “It was all on-the-job training and learning. We never studied any books. For me, it all began in 1979 when

I got interested in journalism and sports. As a college student, I met Madhav Gadkari, the then editor of Sakal (Mumbai) and he asked me if I could cover the India-Australia Test match. It started then and I got my major break during the Asian Games that followed shortly after. My editor had asked me to do a piece on the rules of all the games being played there. That’s how I also studied several sports keenly.” 

Lokapally feels that even though the quality of writing and presentation has improved with the entry of a lot of young reporters, journalists are inclined towards editorialisation of news. He says, “Sports journalism is all about reporting what happened on the field but we are sort of crossing the thin line between commenting and editorialising. We need to stop editorialising everything. Nowadays, instead of going on field to cover sports, reporters sit in the office watch the match and then write their report which obviously will lack the feel because they didn’t go on field.”

Lokapally also says that there is tremendous pressure on young reporters. They have so much information that is easily available to them but they need to find out if it is reliable or not.

He explains, “In our time, we had to sit in libraries like The British Council to read English newspapers and research. Now, with the click of the mouse young reporters have everything on their platter. But this rush to get the news and be the first one to break it is prompting them to sacrifice so much. A sports reporter needs to study the topic properly, research and then decide what is worth reporting. The need to be the first one to break the news is making us reporters indulge in glamourisation of trivial news.”

Journalism is all about deadlines. For sports journalists working in print, it’s tougher because matches go on till very late and the scores need to appear in next day’s paper. Says Dalvi, “Sports pages are the last ones to go to print when it comes to important matches. That is where competition comes into play. On the one hand is the race to give the most updated scores or results and on the other, there is the need to give pages for printing in time. Deadlines mean everything in journalism. We have to constantly be on our toes.”

Glamour and cricket frenzy
It can be easily observed that glamour has become an essential part of sports. To draw crowds, organisers spend on big names. But the glamour factor is also taking away the essence of sports and diverting our attention to how a reporter or presenter looks. Commenting on the same, Lokapally says, “The glamour factor is of course growing. A lot of time, our focus is on the presenter and what s/he is wearing which makes sports take a backseat. For example, Mayanti Langer has had to face this a lot in recent times. She has been a footballer herself and used to report on football. Now, she is drifted into cricket and is well researched so it is absolutely unfair to call her glamorous and not focus on what she has to say.” 

Not just glamour, our devotion towards cricket is also taking away attention from other sports. Dalvi says that the media is largely responsible for this. “Because cricket gets readers a lot of other sports and its stars often get overlooked. Yes, we are responsible for it,” says Dalvi, who has worked with the Marathi media throughout his career.

“Also, regional media does take a beating in terms of readership. A well-written Marathi copy wouldn’t get as many readers as a shallow English copy of the same match,” he further adds.

Most of the days, indigenous sports do not appear in the news because we are still suffering from cricket hysteria. Lokapally says, “It absolutely depends on a sports editor in media houses who takes a call about which sport will get how much coverage, so I blame the management for not doing anything about it. Nowadays, a cricket reporter is a ‘star’ reporter and since we are so obsessed with cricket, other sports’ reporters don’t get much attention and honestly, this discrimination is disheartening. Other sports like basketball, badminton, etc get drowned in cricket coverage. It’s only when India lost to Pakistan in the recent ICC Champions Trophy and the India hockey team beat Pakistan, a 7-1 victory in the Pool B game, in the Hockey World League 2017 the same day, that Indian hockey got some major coverage. We should observe how international media covers every sport and gives them equal importance.”

Recently, ace shuttler Kidambi Shrikanth also won back-to-back Super Series titles bringing joy to millions of Indians. So yes, all sports deserve our attention and equal coverage.

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