The sense of thrill is great, even indescribable, when one watches the drama of a contest unfold at a sports venue. It is wonderful to reach out and touch the electricity in the air that can light up a whole stadium and more. It is even more amazing to be able to bring that story home to an audience outside the limits of the galleries there.
For a little over a century and a half, media outlets have cherished the opportunity and the challenge of reporting on sporting contests. Sport and media have come to share a symbiotic relationship, evolving so much with one another’s support that it is virtually unthinkable to have one without the other.
Of course, technological advances have been part of the journey. I carried a portable typewriter on my maiden international assignment, the 1989 South Asian Games in Islamabad, Pakistan, and, with the enhancement of technology, had a sub-notebook computer when I watched tennis star Leander Paes win the 1996 Olympic Games bronze medal in Atlanta.
The switch from typewriter to laptop computers and from telegraphed dispatches to telex, fax, FTP to e-mails over the internet have been remarkable facilitators. But while the beauty of being both annalist and analyst has been a constant, the challenge of story-telling kept changing with time to keep one’s interest alive and kicking.
The advent of cable and satellite television in the early 1990s saw sport from around the world being brought home more often than in the past. Earlier, we would watch the FIFA World Cup football finals once in four years. Now football is on the agenda of every youngster in the form of European league, which even adjusted the kick-off time to suit Asian audiences!
Similarly, there was a time in the 80s when we would get to watch tennis for just a few weeks each year. We would be lucky if we got to watch the second week of all four Grand Slam events. Contrast that with the present days when nearly every tournament on the ATP circuit is beamed live into our homes.
The explosion of TV channels – some of which run 24-hour operations from basements of shopping malls and cannot afford to employ anyone with any kind of sports background – has led to a variety of problems. Some of them appear to treat their shows as entertainment outlets rather than even infotainment, let alone informative programmes.
That has only increased the challenges that the sports media professionals face. With instant communication over the internet, the demands for the latest and most engrossing stories have grown. Few have the time to pause and introspect on how to spread the ‘gospel’ of sport and for being responsible to the audience.
It is in such circumstances that newspapers writers are expected to conjure magic. Not only do the writers have to find stories beyond what the TV channels come up with but also narrate them well to be able to make an impact. The news, business and entertainment sections in Indian media do not face such overseas threats as the sports communication sections do.
In their desire to give readers what newspapers think they wish to read, some incidents have been exaggerated beyond reality. Coupled with the mushroom growth of media, it is one of the unfortunate aspects of modern media and that has led to the distancing between most athletes and mediapersons.
Just as Indian sport faces competition from world class events around the globe, Indian sports writers are under pressure to deliver quality. Of course, there have been changes and controversies – betting and match-fixing, doping, racism – in sport over the years and the media has left accounts, some more authentic and reliable than others, for posterity, guidance and opinion.
The truth is that sports media – especially the broadcasters and those who advertise on – ensure that the coffers that fund sport around the world are nearly always fill. The money that comes from the sale of broadcasting rights goes a long way in supporting sport. In fact, broadcasters now have started owing a part of some events like the Pro Kabaddi League and Indian Soccer League.
The arrival and evolution of Social Media has changed some of the dynamics as well. Sportspersons, like most celebrities, have used their access to their fans (followers) to reach out to them often, leaving the conventional media to start using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as primary sources of news. There is a different thrill in tracking drama online and offering one’s own comment.
Having enjoyed telling sports stories – in print, on radio and television as well as the web – for three and a half decades now (and to have someone pay for to watch sport around the world), I can safely say that sport and media are not only made for one another but also are breaking new ground to ensure that tales of human endeavor will keep inspiring several generations of people.
Be it writing or talking about the Indian cricket team or the exploits of the national football and hockey teams and a whole variety of athletes who have done the country proud, I have been privileged to enjoy the outcome of the innate chemistry between sport and media. Life would have been very boring if I had to earn a living differently.
Yet, for all that has happened and is likely to happen, sport and media will continue to feed off one another. There are innumerable reports, books, radio features, documentaries and feature films on sport that will last as long as sport itself. And, be sure, many more will follow in the years to come. For, sport and media are mutually reliant.
This article was originally published in Orbit, a school magazine.