Ranjona Banerji: Is there enough scandal in sports journalism?

02 Jun,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


The way sports journalists look at scams, scandals and problems within the sport they cover is very intriguing. Many, and this is hardly surprising, choose sports because they have a passion or a fan interest. This makes them some of the best writers in the entire gamut of journalism. But does it make them good journalists? No one covers a civic beat for instance because they have had a childhood passion for municipal politics. But it can and is a treasure chest of great stories and an opportunity for excellent journalism.


So the “Sepp Blatter and FIFA versus the rest of the goodie-goodie world” story was impossible to decode for the casual observer. And everyone agreed that it would make no difference to football fans across the world. The western media, sports and otherwise, often looks at such scams in terms of how the third/non-white world operates. So the main objection to Qatar being awarded a football World Cup was the human issue labourers dying while making stadia. However. it could be postulated that workers might also die building other structures in Qatar. It seems a logical impossibility that they only die when connected to football.


If there is no outrage for those deaths then it would imply there is a bigger picture or the anti-Qatar feeling is tinged with racism and hypocrisy in the world of football. You see this very often with some parts of the British media and cricket where everything immoral about betting and match-fixing is sub-continental – the former Empire acting up and proving why the Brits shouldn’t have left. The “white” cricketers involved (and there are many) is because they were naive, innocent, trapped, really thought they were discussing the weather and so on.


Even when former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje was caught by the Delhi police with incontrovertible evidence of involvement in match-fixing in 2000, several sympathetic articles appeared in the western press on how a believing Christian could never be involved in such stuff. Cue in evil Indian police authorities for daring to point fingers at a white man!


This is not meant to be a diatribe against racism in cricket journalism. It is just an example of how sports and general journalists cannot sometimes see the woods for the trees. They get caught up in other issues (why is the BCCI so powerful) or get affected by their fandom (how can someone who bats so well be a crook). I worked for a short while with a cricket magazine in 2000 when the match-fixing scam broke. Many of the sports journalists around me were genuinely shocked that such a thing had happened even though rumours had been swirling around for years and Tehelka had done a sting operation on dodgy dealings in cricket some years earlier.


While cricket fans were to some extent appalled as events unfolded in 2000, we have clearly been told that no football fan is bothered by what FIFA is accused of. Like the intrigues of the BCCI, many international sports associations are dominated by one man, full of money, politics, lifestyles and fun and games of various sorts. Blatter’s surviving skills outdo most reviled BCCI members so what does that tell us about sport and fairplay?


In tennis, which I watch very closely, I have noticed that issues of drug abuse and betting are barely reported before they are swept under the courts. French sports magazine L’Equipe went hammer and tongs at Lance Armstrong for drug abuse as he won Tour de France after Tour de France until they were proved right. But French tennis player Richard Gasquet gets a small ban and a tiny rap on the knuckles for kissing a girl at a party and getting cocaine all over his lips. Really. Marin Cilic comes back from a drug-related ban and wins the US Open. Hmm. Even if they are both innocent, and they may well be, where are the stories?


It is, intriguingly, the players who talk the most about drugs and betting but cursory attention is paid to what they say. A scandal of sorts has emerged in the ongoing French Open about defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal asking the Association of Tennis Players to remove a chair umpire from his matches, a request apparently not made to the French Open but still followed. Senior and well-respected umpire, Carlos Bernardes’s apparent crime was to enforce the ATP’s own rules against Nadal. In other words, he was doing his job. There has been some minor reporting on this and other top players have objected to the favour done to Nadal, but that is about it. Has anyone seen much on this in the Indian media, although the French Open is covered by all newspapers?


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