Sakal Times Sports Editor Kirti Patil talks about how he has witnessed the transformation of sports scribes and journalism over the years.
Some seven words from Ato Boldon may have shaped my career as a sports journalist — and after more than 20 years in this distinct field of journalism there hasn’t been a single moment when thoughts of quitting it arose.
“I’ll talk to him. He’s been waiting,” is how the then 200m World Champion Boldon rebutted a Malaysian official when I approached the Trinidadian for an interview after he had duly rested following his warm-up and practice session.
Boldon was the biggest draw at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, and I was an upstart in sports journalism working for Bernama, the Malaysian New Agency, on deputation from the Press Trust of India.
To interview Boldon then, was like to get hold of Usain Bolt now. I had braved my way into the Bukit Jalil Stadium once I was tipped off about his arrival. I requested Boldon for a short interview and he suggested I should wait for him to finish warm-up and practice. But when Boldon was done, the Malaysian officials wanted me to get permission from some high ranking official. It was then that Boldon intervened.
From then to now, there have been hundreds of situations like this, but unfortunately these days most interviews are set up and everyone gets to speak to the star.
The exclusivity factor has taken a beating, but then times have changed and so have the challenges.
I have been fortunate to have worked through the different eras of communication — from the days of hand delivered copies to telegraph and fax and now email and mobile connectivity. Back in the day, State
Transport bus drivers were means of sending reports. A late afternoon bus would still reach the city in time for the publication of news for the next day.
Sometime later, post offices became our place of refuge to use telegraph machines as facsimiles, and we still considered that as a luxury. So from hand-written reports to the typed copies by portable type-writers, the ways of filing reports also changed. If communication was difficult then, putting reports on paper was cumbersome too. Remember, there is no backspace on a typewriter.
It was during those days that I came across the legendary cricket journalist Dicky Rutnagur. A senior pointed out who the old fellow was, and that he freelanced for four publications across England and the West Indies. What caught my eye was his table at the Ferozeshah Kotla
Ground where India was hosting the Caribbean team for a test match.
Unlike the rest of us who had a seating place and just about enough space on a table to keep a portable typewriter, his was a full table with four typewriters — two portable ones that he always carried wherever he went and two hired ones.
He worked on all typewriters simultaneously, adding paragraphs as and when needed and putting in thoughts as per the taste of the publication he was writing for, all while adhering to the varied deadlines.
This was something amazing, but nowdays all you need for such multi-tasking is multiple tabs.
My first tour abroad took me to Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games and there I was exposed to the emerging technology that the West had already embraced and Malaysia was fast-tracking itself into it.
Watching live action in a stadium and sitting in the media box with a computer in front to key in reports was a luxury, which my then employer, PTI, was yet to embrace.
At the turn of the new millennium, laptops replaced typewriters and changed the game literally and figuratively. Sports journalism made certain things easier, like getting to meet the top class sportspersons across different sporting fields, or being able to witness on ground action at the biggest sporting events such as the Olympic Games which only a few would have got the chance to do, if it wasn’t for the Internet. But inspite of all the changes, from Roger Federer at London Olympics with the hallowed precincts of Wimbledon hosting tennis, to Germany versus Brazil Olympics football final at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, thankfully life has never been dull for me.