Ranjona Banerji: No commentators beyond cricket in our country

04 Jul,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


Sports coverage can be easily be one of those please-nobody pitfalls. It is extremely difficult for commentators for instance to say anything very much different about how someone hits a ball, whether with their feet, heads, bats and racquets innumerable times in the course of a few hours. Innovation therefore is sometimes called for. But to do that effectively, you have to understand your fans. Like the Olympic scoring system in events like figure skating and gymnastics, lop off the highest (uncritical) and lowest (never satisfied) scores and go with the rest.


But if you really want to know how to get it wrong then Sony Six’s pre-match shows for the FIFA World Cup is the way to go. Having got the rights to this prestigious event, Sony Six obviously wanted to go all out. But it took the cricket or rather IPL route and decided that India’s football fans wanted nothing more than a bit of Bollywood glamour (John Abraham) and IPL sham (anchor Gaurav Kapoor). The show, called Cafe Rio, also had two former international footballers (just about), Peter Crouch and Mikael Silvestre as well a girl in designer togs and Keith Sequeira mispronouncing as many football names as he did tennis names on another sports channel.


Fans were appalled from Day One. Football is not cricket – okay that sounds like a meaningless truism but in India at least, football has a small but dedicated following. The love for cricket has encompassed the tawdry glitter of the IPL as well as the intellectually challenging Test match. Football fans know their football and they know that they want. Pap and rubbish are not included in that list.


Twitter led the campaign against the show and someone even started a petition to get Gaurav Kapoor (who was also joined by VJ Nikhil Chinappa) off the show. Eventually, Sony Six responded and changed the names around leading apparently to an uneasy compromise between fan feelings and available talent.


The problem for Sony Six is easy to understand. India is not yet a sporting nation. This means that we do not have enough experts in enough fields except cricket. Getting commentators becomes extremely difficult when our expertise at the international level is so limited in possibly everything. As of now, we excel internationally – one uses the word liberally – in cricket, tennis and badminton. Our potential experts are still out there playing. Who then to commentate? Would a dedicated fan of any sport accept a player who has not even played internationally? Or a coach whose protégé has gone nowhere? Barring hockey – where our glorious past means we have several experts even Olympians around if we want them – or maybe snooker and billiards, where is our talent pool? And for football, possibly the world’s biggest sport? For viewers who are used year round to hear experts during the EPL, Champions League, La Liga and so on to be subjected to the bumbling rubbish of another fan who perhaps knows less than them during the sport’s biggest event? Unacceptable!


Tennis fans for instance have been reduced to gales of laughter listening to Charu Sharma struggle to find the right terminology at the Chennai Open!


Talking of tennis, one has to be grateful that Sony Six got the rights to the FIFA World Cup so that we can watch Wimbledon in peace on the Star Sports network, unlike four years ago. I have no idea why Vijay Amritraj and Alan Wilkins are not doing the commentary themselves this year. I for one am not disappointed but I know others who are. Contractual problems may be or someone decided that instead of commentary from a TV set, on court commentary was better? I for one am enjoying listening to John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Lindsey Davenport, Tracy Austen, Tim Henman and the rest.


Ya, experts, you know.


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