Wednesday, June 27, 2012

London Olympics 2012 - Lessons in covering sports holistically

(Images courtesy - and

The London Olympics 2012 is a little over a month away. Yet various aspects relating to the games have been covered diligently over the last four years, ever since the announcement was made that London would host the 2012 Olympics.

Almost everything from who constitutes the managing committee, how they were appointed and what role they will play, how much of the taxpayer’s money will go towards the games, the role of corporates in the games, opening ceremony plans, update on local players preparing for the games, tourist and other infrastructure development around the games, marketing channels used for the games, bidding process, recruitment of volunteers and even the food at the Olympics venue has been covered more or less in an unbiased manner.

Compare that with the coverage of the Delhi commonwealth Games 2010. The first set of reports on the games appeared when we bagged the contract to host the games. After that there was a near six year lull before reports started appearing of how some of the construction work was behind schedule or how some of the structures coming up would damage the ecological balance of the locality. About four months before the games were to commence, news broke of a possible scam in procurements. That was followed up by reportage that was in some way related to this alleged scam – poor quality of housing for athletes, incomplete infrastructure for the games, disturbance to commuters in Delhi owing to frequent diversions and no permanent solutions to traffic snarls etc. Once the games started, the coverage focused mainly on athlete victories. Post the games the government appointed the V.K. Shunglu committee to look into the irregularities and the media reported news of the investigation report being submitted.

While this coverage is commendable, it missed out on several vital aspects. These include timely reportage on how the CWG committee was formed, the experience of the committee in handling games of this magnitude, information exchange on building any capabilities we did not have, the committee’s functioning, progress of the projects (not just glaring lapses that resulted in lag in completion), bidding process for various items and other decision making by the executive committee.

Had such information been periodically reported, it could have helped identify irregularities early on and embark on course correction. This could have also avoided the reputation loss to the country and the bipartisan stand the media was forced to take.

This is not the only case of narrow piece meal sports reporting. The IPL coverage under the Lalit Modi regime too chose to focus on obvious facts – victories, defeats and team strategies for upcoming games. When the scam broke out, the focus remained primarily on the then proposed Kochi team and Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi and his dubious modus operandi. No details other than the amounts of money recovered by the Income Tax department or the fact that NRI money was used to fund the teams were disclosed. If the same dubious sources and modus operandi had funded an industry such as banking, information technology or manufacturing, the reportage would have been far more comprehensive bordering on being investigative.

Why is it important to cover sports holistically?

Sports is increasingly seen as the only option for success for many talented youngsters from under developed states/ underprivileged families. Spurred by recent successes, the nation is serious about grooming talent beyond cricket and nurturing smaller, less popular sports such as badminton, tennis, archery, rifle shooting, hockey, football and wrestling. For many readers, keen to follow these sports, there is little reportage on how these games are run by the respective apex governing bodies, player selections, sources of funding for the sport, training, rankings (regional or international) and challenges faced by players.

A case in point is the recent reportage of the tussle between players and the All India Tennis Association (AITA) for sending teams to the London Olympics 2012. Keen followers of the game would know that this was yet another ego issue and this time the players triumphed. It is public knowledge that players and tennis associations have had a rocky relationship across many countries and for many decades. Tennis was banned from the Olympics for close to 50 years till 1988, when the ATP and the International Olympic Association reconciled by putting aside their differences.

Had such background information been shared (or perhaps known to tennis reporters), the current AITA tussle could have been comprehensively (and knowledgeably) reported, instead of reporting it as a “Crisis in Indian tennis.”

Media scrutiny into the above mentioned aspects will not only give readers a wealth of knowledge, but also go a long way in improving the functioning of these apex bodies, boost sources of funding, bring more knowledgeable persons on the board and have meaningful outcomes. In an era where good governance is stressed upon for good outcomes, it is necessary that the media reports incisively and holistically on sports.

(I wrote this piece for the Hoot. For more details, read it here)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sports Ministry attempts an ace, faces a volley

A tweet by Sports Minister Ajay Maken yesterday morning on sending two Tennis teams to Olympics seemed like an attempt to pour water on fire. Only, it ended up working like oil.

AITA picked Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes to play for the London Olympics (to be held in July), assuming they would be a team. However, Bhupathi has re-iterated his position of not wanting to play with Paes. AITA then reached out to Rohan Bopanna, who later yesterday refused to partner Paes on grounds that he and Paes had not practiced adequately to face the Olympic challenge. Just before 6 pm yesterday Bhupathi challenged AITA’s stand. As a tailpiece to the story, Paes today complained to AITA that it would be unfair to him if a second team comprising Bhupathi and Bopanna were to be fielded.

Why is AITA keen on making a match that defies all odds of logic?

Unlike cricket, tennis is an individual sport – funded individually, trained privately with little or no government support. Players prefer playing singles. It is an effort for them to modify their style to find a partner for doubles. Given this challenge, shouldn’t AITA have made their intentions clear much earlier on who could be potential partners for the Olympics? That way, at least the players would have had a realistic chance of practice. If not, they could have opted out at the earliest, giving opportunity to the next generation of players.

It is surprising that the media has so far chosen to report these developments as is, without probing both parties for a meaningful reportage of the situation. What is AITA’s selection criterion for insisting that only Bhupathi and Paes play a pair and not any other combination of players? Just that Paes is India’s top ranked player and has the most wins to his credit? Paes won an Olympic medal in 1996. Does he have a realistic chance to win after 16 years, no matter who is he paired with? Why should players be penalized for stating their preferences, when AITA clearly fails to extend them this basic courtesy? Is it fair to blame players as “being selfish and not playing for the country” when AITA itself is being selfish in its desire for a medal without consideration for player’s interests?

If any of these questions were asked, one would not be reading “developments” every half an hour on “the situation” as if it was some national disaster coverage.

(I wrote this post originally for the Hoot Blog. Click here to read the post and comments)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Satyameva Jayate - What worked?

I had not seen a single show of Satyameva Jayate (SJ) until last Saturday. (Yes, it was a replay of the show on love and marriage outside the caste and to complicate matters the show was dubbed in Tamil).

(Image courtesy:

I watched it for 20 minutes and felt a sense of déjà-vu. That was when I realized there were many such shows across India in different languages that spoke at length about these social issues, starting with news channels like NDTV. The only difference was that one felt obliged to shed tears while watching SJ and failed to do anything about the issue once the show got over.

This brings me to the perennial question – What is so special about SJ that it has pipped other such shows to become the big daddy of our social and moral conscience?

Is it the All India broadcast rights? Is it Aamir Khan? Is it the gruesome portrayal of social ills? Is it the absence of Ads during the broadcast? I don’t think it is any of this. It is the timing of the show – Literally and figuratively. Sunday morning is when you want to watch TV and take an afternoon siesta. SJ is like a movie – it has elements of comedy, tragedy, action and drama – that you can watch and then go to sleep and wake up fresh to face the real challenges in your life.

It is stylized like a posh TV show which doesn’t jar you out of your senses. The audience present on the sets sits obediently and makes its points by raising hands and speaking politely into the microphone. (Unlike the loud and emotional speeches you hear in Tamil programmes of this format where auditoriums and school grounds are rented to bring in the ‘affected crowds’ and drive home the point).

As long as the show remains faithful to the movie format, it would do well. Recent episodes have shown unhappy endings and viewership is declining. (Zee recently came out with an advertorial saying one of its dance shows featured on kids had a better TRP than SJ). How long before sun sets on SJ?