The sepia tint is strong but it does not take much for the image of an up and coming cricketer riding a bicycle to a newspaper office in Secunderabad to give the sports editors a copy of his photograph for use in the next morning’s edition comes through the sub-conscious. The montage that is playing on my mind is from the 70s when scoring a century or taking five wickets in the Hyderabad cricket league could enhance the chances of one’s photograph appearing in the newspaper.
This scene kept replaying in my mind’s eye when four Indian boxers – L Devendro Singh, Manoj Kumar, Jai Bhagwan and Vikas Krishan – won their pre-quarterfinals bouts in the AIBA World Championship in Baku, Azebaijan. And from the comfort of my home in Delhi, I got to hear Devendro and Manoj Kumar share their joy with boxing fans in India. This was thanks to the efforts of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation in sending journalists an audio file.Vikas_audio
Yet, on the day when four Indians boxers made it to the quarterfinals of the World Championship, there was no visual or sound byte available to vast sections of the media of Ronjan Sodhi battling hard to retain the double trap gold medal at the World Cup finals in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates with a victory of China’s Hu Binyuan in a dramatic shoot-off. Only the enterprising reporters got through to Sodhi and managed to get some quotes from him.
Similarly, there was so little footage available of the Indian hockey team winning the Asian Champions Trophy at Ordos in China last month. How can PR Sreejesh, who emerged hero with two saves in the tie-breaker in the final against Pakistan, ever be built up as a hero? How can goal-scorers like Rupinder Pal Singh or Gurvinder Singh Chandi or Danish Mujtaba become household names if we do not get to see them perform in our drawing rooms?
Even less information was available to the popular media when 19-year-old archer Deepika Kumari claimed individual recurve silver in the World Cup Finals in Istanbul in September. She lost gold in a single arrow shoot off with China’s Ming Cheng after tying 26-26 in the final. It would have been wonderful if we got to watch Deepika perform and then hear her articulate thoughts about the stress, going into the shoot-off.
It will be an understatement to say that the amount of time Indian sportspersons get on TV pales in comparison with the likes of say Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button – just to name a few stars who hog TV time when cricketers are not the flavour of the month.
Sadly, with most of the print media also devoting enormous amounts of space to sport that is beamed live to millions of households in the country, the achievement of Indian sportspersons – however sporadic – does not get its due. If that is the bitter truth for international achievers, you can imagine how much time and space those occupying the lower rungs of the ladder would be getting in the national media.
Of course, there are exceptions. Yuvraj Valmiki, the young forward from a shanty in Marine Line in Mumbai, was granted his 15 seconds of fame when the Government of Maharashtra decided to award him Rs 10 lakh for scoring a goal in the Asian Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. Forget sociological stories about their backgrounds, we hardly get to see our champions perform on TV. Therefore there is a dearth of reportage in the print media as well.
I remember being with former India captain Jagbir Singh in the Delhi studios of DD Sports and analysing India’s games in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament at Ipoh in Malaysia. We had no footage to fall back upon and we had to base our opinions on either tracking the games on the net or calls to colleagues watching the tournament.
Therefore, it was heartwarming to see the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation send not only the usual press releases but also audio bytes from boxers and coaches once the quarterfinal stage was reached. We could hear Devendro Singh and Manoj Kumar express their happiness at qualifying for the Olympic Games in London. A day later, we could hear 19-year-old Vikas Krishan analyse his quarterfinal victory Belous Vasili of Moldova and the coaches BI Fernandes and Pal Singh Sandhu speak about India’s best showing in a world championships.
This was a very smart initiative and has ensured that the result of the boxers and their coaches’ hard work has been adequately reported. There is a lesson that other National Sports Federations can take from the initiative of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation. If their officials spend so much as even a bare moment reflecting on what the boxing officials did to provide the media information, they will realise that they can replicate the effort for their own athletes.
Clearly, the National Sports Federations – and their affiliates at the State and lower levels – have their task cut out. They must ensure that the performances of their stars are shared with the print and electronic media. Importantly, in doing this, the mandarins must ensure that they stay in the background and let the athletes take centrestage. They must pay a lot more attention to providing information and access to the sportspersons.
It does not take much – except an awareness of the modern media’s demands and a positive attitude – to ensure that each Indian team that travels overseas has a media officer whose primary task should be to provide as much information and as quickly as possible so that the media in India is given the chance to report on the performances of our athletes in greater detail than is being done now.
Come to think of it, keeping the media fed with optimum information is not really a new idea. I remember a time in Hyderabad when cricketers would scored hundreds or take five wickets in the local league games and then cycle to the local newspaper officers to give the sports desk a copy of their latest photographs. With internet spreading wide, email has replaced the good old bicycle.
(This piece was written for Dainik Bhaskar)