Thursday, September 20, 2007

An ode to the media

I was pondering upon a friendly argument I once had with a couple of my colleagues during our 40 minute drive from Cardiff to the Welsh Water office in Nelson. The moot point of the discussion was that the Indian sports media was throwing the entire limelight upon the game of cricket and giving a cold shoulder to all the other sporting disciplines. While each of the ten million one-dayers that India plays in a year manages to get prime coverage, Anju George's world cup feats are a mere footnote. If a Tendulkar hundred is full page material, Anup Sridhar defeating Taufiq Hidayat is lesser than a paragraph! So far so good. However, the argument was actually on a corollary;that this media bias is the reason why other sports were not doing well in India. And another that cricket is undeserving of all the attention it gets. I will take up my case from these statements. There are no two ways about the fact that cricket, and cricketers, are the most hyped commodities in India today. But you just cannot ignore the fact that it is the only team sport right now where India can compete with the best in the world. Never mind that cricket is played by a handful of nations. As a matter of fact, so is field hockey. So is Rugby. And Basketball. And many others. Does that fact prevent any of these sports from being big? Soccer is probably the only sport which enjoys universal appeal. All other team sports are played in geographical or cultural pockets.Hence, there is no harm in backing your only national team which can lock horns with the best in the world. Naturally, the Indian sports media has no options other than cricket to boost their economics. So they dish out generous helpings; and we lap it up. Of course, by no means does it justify the utter disdain shown to other sports by the media on some ocassions. The media, across the universe, is married to success. And money is a spin-off of this union. However, the media cannot make or break a sport in a country. It is the system which is always responsible for the same. Look at the West Indies, for example. Could anyone, even in their wildest dreams, have seen Caribbean cricket reach the nadir that it is going through? Fact is, when they dominated cricket in the eighties, they just sat back and enjoyed, failing to see the simple fact that the greats would not go on forever.There had to be a second line, in order to sustain their success. The same could be said of hockey in India. And about Squash in Pakistan.In sports, you simply cannot survive on heritage and tradition.Not for too long, that is! For years now Indian soccer and field hockey have been one man circus shows. While hockey shows ocassional flashes of our past glory, soccer continues to flounder in the abysmal trough of Mohun Bagan-East Bengal games. Other than some recent symptoms of sanity shown by our hockey chief, the game has been generally toyed around with during the last few years. Players have been dropped for reasons other than the game; coaches have been replaced at the drop of a hat; winning combinations have been disturbed and so on. In spite of all these, whenever the hockey team did well, the media has been positive and overwhelming in their support. Even the PHL is extremely well covered; so what are we complaining about? Hockey has to take the next step to reap better rewards from sponsors and the media - which is consistent success at the world level. Backed up by consistent initiatives from the governing body. Cricket took these massive steps in the eighties; the team by winning the world cup in 1983; the BCCI by hosting the world cup in 1987 and subsequently effecting a shift of power to Asia. That's when the sponsors (led by Reliance) started coming in and cricket exploded into its current form. Notably, even before that, India had superstars like Sunny Gavaskar and Kapil Dev and yet, the game was never as big. Which only proves that for one sport to become a media obsession, performance by the team and promotion by the organization are the only two factors. The rest merely follow. Indian soccer is a whole different story. With the absolute lack of any serious or thoughtful initiatives to raise the level of the game, the players should count their lucky stars that there are a few loyalists, who out of sheer love for the game, still throng the galleries. And for the fact that the league is still covered by both the print and television media. In reality, going by the level of the game, it is no better than the Indian basketball league; ever heard of that? Sometimes even media attention cannot give enough fillip to a game. So While Bjorn Borg was able to usher in a generation of Swedish tennis players, the same cannot be said about India where Mahesh and Leander got enough success and limelight in the late nineties. Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan were darlings of the media in the seventies and eighties. So is Sania Mirza,although for her, it is more of the limelight (and sometimes undue). Still, tennis contuinues to be an elitist sport in India."A", because of practical reasons, as the sport is a very expensive proposition. And "B" because tennis, not being a traditional Indian sport, it may take a couple of generations to bridge that psychological gap. Another empirical truth we all have to accept is the glamour quotient in sports. Some sports are high in it and some are low. The reasons are fuzzy and cannot always be exactly pointed out. It could be because of the viewer-friendliness of the sport. It could be about the reach of the sport. It could be a whole gamut of reasons.Badminton can never draw as much media attention as Lawn Tennis. Similarly, Volleyball can never be as popular as Basketball.Wrestling can never match Boxing.So Lin Dan, however many All Englands he may win, will never be Roger Federer. The Brazilian Volleyball team, with as many championships as it wins, will never be as popular as their footballers.Its funny but its a fact. All said and done, media polarization towards one sport or a group of sports happens in every country. Yet, in genuine sporting nations, it does not hinder the growth of any other game.Take Australia as a sporting nation. Do you think Field hockey gets as much coverage in that country as Cricket? Or does Soccer get as much attention as Rugby? Yet, in the former they are the world champions. And in the latter, they play in the World Cup. Consider the USA. The country crazy about NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL;which still needs a David Beckham to stir up media interest in soccer. And yet, it plays in the FIFA World Cup! It is, in fact a pity and an embarassment that in India today, it takes an uninspiring, run-of-the-mill movie like Chak De India to stir up interest in hockey. That it needs a shallow character of Kabir Khan and not the genius of Dhyan Chand or Md. Shahid to inspire this generation to pick up hockey sticks.Our hockey federation should be hanging their heads in shame as it only reflects their total failure to keep the rich tradition alive. And the media can take a bow - at least they tried! -BBS

3 Comments:

Blogger Amit Panhale said...

Good one there...BBS...!

2:17 AM  
Blogger Avnish said...

Hey guys

really nice blog...what gladdens my heart the most is that you guys also follow the NFL,NBA and MLB. Iam a sports fan myself and do a little bit of writing on commonfan.blogspot.com and isport.in. Iam a regular follower of the aforementioned leagues and feel great that there are others who share my passion.

I have studied in Cal and having watched the MB-EB rivalry from close quarters feel that it is the greatest rivalry in indian sport. Iam actually planning to write something where I can make this point. Do you guys have more dope on this rivalry? other than the regular stuff which you can find everywhere.WOuld really really appreciate the help.

I also want to do some posts where two writers just debate. Iam sure you would have seen the same format on the page2 section of espn.com. So what do you think?

Let me know.

Cheers

Avnish

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything made sense. Except the 'basketball remark'. Basketball is played ALL OVER THE WORLD. That fact is most visible behind NBA's success in drawing players, coaches and millions of viewers from all over the world. From Africa, to Europe, East Asia and Latin America and Australia everyone plays it. Maybe the US's dominance of the sport overshadows the popularity of the sport it has elsewhere in the world. But countries Lithuania, France, Argentina, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Italy, Greece all field very very competitive teams and are a handful of names from a host of nations which play competitive basketball. So the comparison between cricket and basketball is flawed

9:47 PM  

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