This is what sports journalism should be

15 03 2013

I don’t fangirl very often, but I’m willing to make an exception for the thoroughly awesome David Walsh.

For those of you who may have been on a desert island for a couple of years, he’s the guy who unmasked Lance Armstrong as a lying drugs cheat. And it’s taken nigh on 15 years for Walsh, chief sports writer on the Sunday Times, to have his suspicions confirmed for sure.

Those of us of a certain age will remember when the Sunday Times, with Harold Evans at the helm, was a true campaigning newspaper and uncovered the Thalidomide scandal. Forty (eek!) or so years on, they supported Walsh (being interviewed beforehand in the pic below by Will Carpenter, one of our final year journalism students) in his quest.

A quick-thinking Tweet from my colleague Mary Williams brought Walsh down to Portsmouth this month to speak at the Guildhall to nearly 700 people about the Armstrong story. And as he unfolded his gripping story, it reminded me again of how dire a lot of sports journalism really is.

will c and david w

Those of us who’ve worked as sports journalists will remember the endless loop of match previews, groin strains, match reports and signings rumours that never quite seem to make it. If it’s a quiet day, you might get to do a profile on the stalwart full-back or the groundsman who’s been with a club for 40 years. But sadly, few publications in these stripped to the bone staffing days have the resources to devote to investigative journalism. And even more sadly, your average sports reporter seems more interested in the minutiae of everyday life at Man Utd than anything outside of that safe routine cocoon.

And god knows, there are enough sporting stories out there that would merit a tenacious reporter being given six months to poke around to their heart’s content and then to file a blow your socks off exclusive.

Sadly, the best we seem to get in the name of sports reporting is yet another interview with Harry Redknapp while he’s sat in his car with the window wound down …


In search of the true Olympics

25 07 2012

With only a matter of days to go, I’m still trying to get my head around what I feel about the Olympics. I’m a former sports reporter, the only sport I won’t watch is boxing and the thought of wall-to-wall coverage of a lot of my favourite sports sounds like heaven – yet, I declined to even try for Olympics tickets. And the more I see of all the corporate bullshitting (I don’t care for Pepsi, but I want one of their teeshirts now), the more I think I made the right decision.

So it was with impeccable timing that I started reading Matt Roebuck’s The Other Olympics. I’d met Matt at a conference last month and got talking to him about the book, which he’s recently published as an ebook (you’ll find it on Amazon).

Between May and December last year, Matt visited 13 international events, including the Small States of Europe Games, the World Transplant Games, the world Police and Fire Games, the Maccabiah Games, the Pan-Armenian Games, the International Children’s Games, the Inter-University Games, the Wheelchair and Amputee Games and the Arab Games

This wasn’t done as a press junket – this was blowing life savings in a search for the true spirit of the Olympics. And Matt has some vivid stories to tell about hauling down deserted European roads, standing around in obscure towns at all hours, sitting in grand isolation in a huge stadium in Qatar, or simply trying to explain to bemused athletes and administrators just why he’s there.

I rolled my eyes at the pompous gits on the Isle of Wight refusing him accreditation for the Island Games (if he’d been covering dog shit on pavements and street lighting, which is the usual standard of news on the island, he’d have been fine). This was eclipsed, though, by the most surreal exchanges with the organisers as he attempted to visit the Maccabiah Games in Vienna. But our man is nothing if not dogged, and his chatty style gets people talking to him …

His travels took him from Sharjah to Armenia to Qatar to the US. And on the way he met some intriguing people – a lot of women’s volleyball teams, a princess and one of my all-time heroes, the American athlete Tommie Smith (remember the iconic picture from the 1968 Olympics of Smith and John Carlos doing a Black Power salute on the medals podium).

At the end of the book Roebuck comments that he found the true spirit of the Olympics – but he also unearths the questions of amateurism, flags of convenience, commercial exploitation, transport and volunteers. And he says: “Olympism is not a brand to be controlled from the top down by its members and executives. Olymism grows from the grassroots, it grows from people. Sport is an expression of a society coming together for a purpose dictated by its surroundings.”

Doesn’t that sound just a tad familiar?

I give you fair warning that the book is self-published and would have benefited from an editor’s eye to tighten up the writing and to sort out some erratic formatting. But it’s depressing that a mainstream publisher didn’t snap The Other Olympics up, as it’s a very timely book with a lot to say.