Ranjona Banerji: Less breathless hysterics from media on sports, please?

19 Aug,2016

By Ranjona Banerji


My father clicked on a headline on a Bangladesh newspaper site which read “Usain Bolt’s Olympics full of scandal”, aghast that the great Jamaican athlete had been accused of something unsavoury. Of course, there was nothing like that. The headline was “clickbait” and the story was about scandals at the Rio Olympics which had nothing to do with Bolt at all.


As ever, the Olympics are a massive boiling pot of instant nationalism, massive moaning and a whole lot of inexpert nonsense from non-sports journalists. In India, we have gone from misery and pointless TV discussions on our non-performance to absolute hysterics after Sakshi Malik’s Bronze medal in wrestling, as if the media and the nation had any right to take credit for her success. Further, after the outrage over Shobhaa De’s tweet, we entered the ‘no athlete must ever be criticised” zone and Malik’s win at least gave India some hope that De was being proved wrong. And in today’s times, especially on television, anything less than OTT is considered completely anti-national.


This evening, Badminton star Sindhu, who played a remarkable semi-final match, has a chance to go for Gold, so it will be interesting to see how we in the media can outdo what happened this week.


But it’s not just India of course which is part of the fun and games of Rio.


Medal winner and swimming champ Ryan Lochte claimed that he and his teammates were mugged at gunpoint in Rio. Immediately: international headlines and outrage and comments about the state of public safety during the Olympics. Soon after it turned out the Americans were lying and that they had indulged in some vandalism themselves. Lochte from hero is now a butt of jokes and shame. And as for Brazil, well national pride won for them!


Australian medal winner Emma McKeon and fellow swimmer Josh Palmer went out after hours and now have been banned from taking part in the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics. There is outrage of all sorts over this ranging from “how dare adults be treated like children” to the other end of the spectrum, “Rio is unsafe so the Australian Olympic chief of mission was correct”.


However, at the end of this Olympics, we have to have some analysis of how India can do better, minus exaggerated chest-thumping and also needless breast-beating. What role does the media have to play in this, one might justifiably ask. And one easy way is to focus a bit more on all sports and not just on the stars. Cricket gets slammed at times like this but the fact is that cricket does get an inordinate amount of attention. But of four sports pages, if two are given to cricket and one to international football, not much space remains for anything else except for a column here and there.


And all-sport events barring the Olympics get short shrift: you are lucky if you find something in the “briefs” section. As for television news, well.


And the other focus for the media has to be on the problems faced by athletes. Get more of that out into the open and let the people of India show how much they care. Less breathless hysterics may help. Okay, I didn’t really mean that. How can we survive without it?


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