Opinion

Sports Reporting- Always Vibrant, Room For Improvement

Sports journalism in Fiji has always been strong and robust. Historically, the Fiji media have provided extensive coverage, but there is always room for improvement.
26 Apr 2019 14:30
Sports Reporting- Always Vibrant, Room For Improvement
Front (from left) Team Fiji chef de mission Patrick Bower, Fiji National Sports Commission chairman Peter Mazey, ONOC president Dr Robin Mitchell, USP head of journalism Shailendra Singh. Back- sports journalists with certificates after symposium at the Holiday Inn, Suva on April 24, 2019. Photo: FASANOC

Opinion:

I was given the task of providing insights in Fiji’s sports journalism landscape, as I see it. From the outset, I want to state that sports is an important national activity, and the country’s sports journalists play a crucial role in that respect.

Sports unites the country, contributes to the physical and mental health of the population and it is a significant component of the economy in terms of employment, incomes and remittances from abroad.

Sports journalism in Fiji has always been strong and robust. Historically, the Fiji media have provided extensive coverage, but there is always room for improvement.

I started in journalism as a sports reporter, with the first six years of my career focused on sports, including as the sports editor at the Fiji Times.

In Fiji, we may not have the best sporting resources, but we still have a healthy and vibrant sports scene, and the Fiji media deserve some credit for maintaining the interest with their coverage.

In our time in the 1980s-90s, we attempted to cover every sporting event across the country, big and small, with some success.

The underestimated draws and results sections.

In talking about Fiji’s sports reporting landscape, I want to dwell a bit on the draws and results, since they are rarely mentioned, and their huge impact is not so obvious.

We used to pay meticulous attention to these sections, with up to two pages of draws and results published every week—in 6-point font size at that, indicating the sheer volume of sporting activity in the country every weekend.

We entered the data manually since there was no email back then, and so such thing as cut and paste. We also published the national soccer league and provincial rugby points tables at least twice a week, without miss.

Why so much fuss over draws and results, you may ask? In print media, these sections are an important component of coverage, a

fact that is sometimes forgotten in the hype of covering big, dramatic sports events.

Besides provide information about forthcoming events and their outcomes to readers throughout the country, week-in, week-out, these sections attract people to the sports grounds and arenas. These are widely followed throughout the country, by athletes and sports fans alike.

The timely and consistent publication of this data was crucial for maintaining interest in the sport. Without the draws, the teams would not turn up for their games, and without the publication of results, the interest could dwindle.

This is why the sports officials went through so much trouble to record the information and supply it to us. They got cross if we missed a draw or a result, since it was so crucial for them.

The draws and results sections in the newspapers are important indicators of the health of sports as an activity in a country. They show, in a nutshell, the number of organised sports and the active sporting population in different parts of the country and in the country as a whole.

One could glean, from these pages, the entire sports landscape in Fiji, right down to the grassroots level. The draws and results sections showed that for a country of its size, Fiji was a highly active sporting nation. A variety of different sports were held across the country on a regular basis, with active male and female participation, in different age groups and categories.

In some ways, the draws and results are a barometer of sports in our country. For example, in my observation, these sections are not as full nowadays. What is the reason for this? We do not see as many club cricket or club soccer draws and results.

What does this tell us? Does it indicate that club soccer and cricket are in decline, or inactive? If that is the case, it would have serious repercussions at district and national levels. So you can see what I mean when I say the draws and results are an important indicator of the health or otherwise sports in the country.

Another reason draws and results won’t appear is if the media do not report them. This would constitute a serious gap in the coverage. This is simply because the draws and the results sections help generate and maintain interest in sports— from the top, right down to the grassroots level. This is easy to overlook in the hype of covering major sports at national and international levels.

Both the major sports and the so- called ‘minor’ sports could go into a decline without adequate media coverage. Any such decline will resonate at the district and national levels. As an example, let’s take amateur boxing, until recently, apparently dying a slow death. As a result of this, we currently have only one or two boxers who are competitive internationally.

In its heyday, with an abundance of talent, Fiji always fielded a strong boxing team. I could easily name up to eight to 10 good boxers since they were always in the limelight, whereas today, I struggle to name more than one or two. If there are good amateur boxers around, they are not well-known to the public because they are not covered by the media.

In my days, amateur boxing received regular coverage. The draws were printed weekly, along with fight reports and results. This was crucial for a good turnout.

When amateur boxing thrived in the country, so did professional boxing. So-much-so that in the 1970-80s, our promoters regularly brought top Australian and New Zealand boxers to Fiji to fight local opponents.

The leading boxers from the region, such Tongan Mani Vaka, Samoan Fossie Schmidt, and Vanuatu’s Phil Kating based themselves in Fiji to get regular fights. So Fiji was once the Mecca of professional boxing in the Pacific, but not any more.

Without reporters generating interest, a sport can stagnate or decline—especially a minor sport. Without regular coverage, sponsorship will be harder to come by, and the athletes and spectators will simply drift away.

So you can see how crucial your role is as sports journalists.

There are some other points I want to put to you regarding our sports journalism landscape:

  • Is there sufficient match previews and match analysis compared to match reports?
  • Is there a disproportionate focus on premier sports, such as rugby 7s?
  • In comparison, how much coverage do the minority sports get? Forget about minority sports—sometimes it feels like 7s rugby is even crowding out 15s rugby, a bigger sport internationally.
  • Is coverage disproportionately focused on the district, national and international levels? Does club competition get sufficient cover- age, knowing how important it is for development?

In my opinion, these pressing questions should be addressed.

Human Interest angle and good governance.

In our time, the leading athletes in their respective sports were household names. This is partly because sports was covered from a human interest angle, with the athletes taking centre stage. The athletes were constantly in the news, with media highlighting their ups and downs, on and off the field, without being too intrusive.

I have some more questions:

  • Who are the leading swimmers or volleyball players in the country today? Does the public at large have any idea?
  • Is rugby league still a sport in Fiji? It’s hard to tell because the coverage is sporadic at best. Yet, this is another sport with so much potential for Fiji.
  • What’s happening in the once- thriving club soccer scene?
  • Are women receiving a fair share of coverage, especially given sport’s crucial role in empowering women?
  • Is the media focusing on competition and match reports only, and perhaps not so much on issues in sports?
  • Is sport administration getting enough scrutiny or is that perceived as too boring?

Good governance is crucial in sports and the media’s watchdog role in this regard is no less important in sports than it is in news reporting. Bad governance is corrosive: it can demoralise athletes and destroy a sport.

Competition and player welfare

I also want to touch on competition between sports journalists. Healthy competition is beneficial; just as petty rivalry is damaging.

As a case in point, one media organisation recently broke a story about the alleged abuse of national male and female soccer players by their coach. This was obviously a big story, yet other media were slow to follow-up and investigate.

It’s a puzzle — why didn’t other media pick up and run with such an obvious public interest story?

  • Was it because they didn’t see it as newsworthy?
  • Was it because of not wanting to upset the Fiji Football hierarchy?
  • Or was it because the story was broken by rival media?

When some media did eventfully run the story, it was based on the coach and the officials’ one-sided accounts.

As a result, some reports conflated the alleged assault with a positive drug test, when these are totally separate issues.

This story holds many lessons, including the issue of player welfare. It highlights the need for journalists to understand the local sport landscape really well. Fiji journalists should remember that our players are not paid professionals and they do not have agents looking after their interests.

Often, their only avenue is the media providing fair and balanced coverage.

Journalists should not let petty rivalry get in the way of a good story. Athletes’ welfare and the public interest are paramount, regardless of who breaks a story.

Without the athletes’ blood and tears, there will be no sports or sports officials. Fiji sports journalists would do well to remember this at all times.

In closing, I wish to stress that our sports journalists are doing a tremendous job. Sports reporting is vibrant and exciting but there is always room for introspection and improvement.

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj

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