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The Press and Sport

By Bisi Lawrence

I find myself writing sports again in spite of my vow not to ever undertake such a depressing exercise after seeing more than half a century of a joyful career gradually dissolving into sheer dismay.

My main connection had been with reporting sports, during that period, and it was a pastime that totally engaged my life passion because of the way it enriched my existence from the people I met and the activities I was led to be a part of I made every effort to see if I could make an impression on the downward drift of the organization, but I soon realized that what was wrong with sports was just a splinter of the general malaise that was holding the entire nation in thrall, and I simply knew that there was very little I could do about it alone, just by writing against it.

No one seemed interested in the patriotism that places your nation “all earthly things above”, in an age when everybody had become a businessman. And no one seemed to care any more for sports itself, as long as one odd medal or two could stray into the kitty at the end of an international tourney.

But then came an Olympic Games with not a scrap of a metal of any kind of alloy—not even tin —and then there is an uproar “It is disastrous”, some shouted “It is shameful, “ others wailed. “How can this happen to Nigeria?” still others sob.

But then you wonder where were these “patriots” when we were preparing for this failure by not sensibly preparing for good success? Everyone who could have had a say but kept quiet contributed heftily to the debacle in London, and that mostly includes Journalists among whom, happily, I cannot count myself having publicly thrown in the towel in disgust.

I did nothing as I felt I would achieve nothing on my own, and no one else around cared But it would appear that some people do really desire to promote something now. I may, since I have been given the· hint that my contributions may not be unwelcome, therefore humbly submit my “two-bits”. I can only write both as a former sports administrator and a former sports reporter.

And I affirm, once again, that sportswriters must bear a prodigious share of the responsibility for the problems of our sports through a dereliction of duty. This may take one or two editions. Maybe more, and you are invited to join in.

Now, when we put the product of reporting (that is, news) as a social service, and sports as a social activity side-by-side, vast areas of similarity are highlighted. For instance, news must be reported truthfully, and sport should be conducted fairly. News must be interesting; sports is loaded with attractions.

News is extended in a secondary role to education, while sports forms a basis for education. News is about everything including the press itself, but the Sports Section of any arm of  the Press—newspaper, radio, or television—is where the action is perennially. The activity is conveyed in the most sophisticated and most colourful usage of any language. It also has to be very precise and most accurate: there is no synonym for 10.2 seconds; or 19.45 meters; or 3 goals to nothing.

But by an odd coincidence, journalism and sports as professions were the areas which many people felt were meant for drop-outs years ago. But the quality and quantity of those who have shown grave concern about the London flop is enough to debate that thesis.

In the same vein, the men who write sports are far from drop-outs; they have so much to choose from with regard to the dimensions of time and space in the labour market. They are men of deep “background” materials; they are also sometimes “oracles” who cast their opinions into the future with “calculated abandon.”

Among them were the world-renowned author, Ernest Hemmingway; the great short-story writer, John O’Hara and the award-winning newscaster, Walter Cronkite. In Nigeria, we had Horatic Agedah, a former Chairman of N.N.P.C; Peter Pan (a.k.a. Peter Enahoro) who is one of the most celebrated writers of his time; Professor Sam Akpabot, an academic, a broadcaster and popular band leader and, of course, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of the most eminent Nigerians of all time, whose  pen created the legend of “the rare breed of achievers. That is what sports deserves. And that is what it now normally gets.

The contributions of the Press to sports are of sterling quality, grand and wholesome. They include incalculable advantages through suggestions and criticisms offered to the organization of sports. The Press has also been a constant source of necessary encouragement to, and support for sportsmen and women everywhere. When the great ex-Middleweight Champion, Sugar Ray Robinson won the world title for the fourth time, he was asked why he kept coming back.

He replied: “The roar of the crowd .. !”. That is sweet music to the ears of a performer, tonic to his heart, and pure elixir for his spirit. That “roar” is re-echoed in the Press well after the cheering of the arena has died down. And in this regard, the Press performs an invaluable service to sports—that of being the abiding link between sportsmen and women, and those who roar for them.

We can go on and on. On the other hand sports fulfills its relationship with the Press.

Journalism is a profession within the business (or industry) of publishing. Call it what you will at the end of the day, it all comes down to the old game of “profit and loss”. Put very simply, sports helps the Press very heavily on the “profit side”.

But just as the press helps to sell Sport to the public, so does sports sell newspapers, and provide a steady source of gainful involvement for all arms of the media. So while it is true that sports depends heavily on the Press, it is evident that the Press also owes a debt of appreciation and responsibility to sport.

When these two institutions, the Press and sports co-operate, as they normally do, the result is usually of colossal dimensions. What frequently brings them closest is the stream of patriotism that runs through the consciousness of both efforts. In all fair circumstances, the nation comes  first. For instance, the television rights of the Los Angeles Games were awarded to the American Broadcasting Company.

Every other television house had to rely only on the offerings of the ABC on any event within an arena. This is the normal practice. The TV rights of any occasion of that nature in Britain would definitely go to the British Broadcasting Corporation, just as the Nigerian Television would secure them in Nigeria. The arrangement normally works well.

But with the characteristic rabid nationalism, and the ultra-conservatism which now hold America in thrall, the ABC cameras were per-occupied with hunting down U.S. participation, to the detriment of the merits of other nations. The American sportsmen and women were all out to establish the supremacy of “Uncle Sam”; the American Broadcasting Company was there to proclaim it.

The other nations resented it, of course. But the fact is that the American Press was in harmony with the spirit of the nation, and reflected it. The American competitors were infused with the same spirit, and extolled it in their performance.

You may blame the spirit and the ensuing ethos; but the performance was impeccable.

That is the way it is. That is the way it should always be. And it should also be remembered that no other mass media organization featured the criticism against the ABC more than the American Press itself

It is not always, though, that everything runs so smoothly between the gentlemen of sports and the “gentlemen of the media” who are really not so gentle, as a matter of fact. And now, in this connection, let me give you the definition of the news which I have withheld till now.

“Real news is sometimes something which someone, somewhere doesn’t want printed anywhere. “ The rest is PUBLICITY. It is always plain-sailing as long as the Press offers publicity, but when hard news rears its stubborn head, “someone, somewhere”, finds an embarrassment in what really is news.

The vile issues that enthrall sports administration today have been accommodated unprofessionally by our sportswriters because no one wants to embarrass anyone, but the hallmark of the practice of journalism is in discounting sentiments and discharging the truth while observing the dictum, “all that is fit to print.”

The Sports Press has looked on while the release of necessary funds had been delayed; while training schedules had been compromised; while facilities had become obsolete; while totally inept administrators had been imposed — to say nothing of the routine “political” appointment of incompetent ministers. The press has looked. But you don’t have to agree with me. So, say your piece. Send it here.

More, much more, later.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.