Does Media Care about Sports, Beyond Virat & Anushka?

03 Aug,2021


By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiAll year, India’s sports sections across all media focus on personalities and on cricket. Yes, we have learnt a bit about other sports, including international events in which India has no game like Premier League football and so on. We cover tennis is small measure. Exactly what’s happening in India at the lower levels –district, states – is too expensive and time-consuming for most newsrooms to bother with.


This is not about sports journalists so much as the attitude to sport from media managements and owners. In the same pattern as other areas of coverage, sponsorship and advertising determine the bulk of coverage. For decades now, columns are not just sponsored but columnists are instructed to organise their own sponsorship.


This is not just disheartening for a vast group of very talented, knowledgeable and committed sports journalists in India but also a total cheat when it comes to your “consumers”. And this lack of match practice is evident when it comes to events like the Olympics.


First of all, all these sports carry on through the year. They do not pop up once in four years. All these athletes go through their paces. For Track and Field – and to me as to many others, athletics is the crowning glory of gatherings such as the Olympics – there are several competitions in which you have to shine before you reach qualifying. How often do we cover the World Championships or the Diamond League? Same athletes, tougher records to break sometimes. Remember, I’m not even talking about consistent coverage for National Games, Asian Games, under19, under 16 and the rest.


I give you just one example of one sport.


Having ignored these athletes for most of four years, enormous burden is now put on them to perform to our halfbaked expectations. The heartwarming, inspiring story about Olympian Rani Rampal, captain of India’s women’s hockey team that is doing the rounds appeared only after the Olympics began. But it is not new to Rampal’s life or career.


This the extent to which we have no place for sport.


Apart from what Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma said or did or did not and said not.


I know, I know. I am being grossly unfair.


But it is still frustrating.


The sad thing is that sports journalists know all this. But they are helpless. Sports in the news is about sports that sells. And that is also why the incredible problems with cricket associations across the nation are largely ignored, except perhaps locally. Between the current BCCI and the Lodha Commission and the Supreme Court, cricket is in one of its worst ever messes.


I know. I know. Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma.


Funnily enough though big tantrums after losing at the Olympics from big stars like Novak Djokovic and Mary Kom don’t get the same coverage as something Anushka Sharma should not have done when Virat Kohli was playing or something equally pointlessly clickbaitily banal and possibly sexist. And of course, some of our journalist community remember to thank the BJP for every victory in Tokyo.


But happily, we’re now avidly following hockey and track and field and BMX cycling and windsurfing and handball and whatever else. At least once in four years, we remember that we have a hockey team and a host of other athletes. We still have unreal expectations and are still very judgmental. But that’s sport.


And best of all, our vast talent in sports journalism also gets to shine.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal



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