Time to remember pioneers in sports journalism
Challenges facing the traditional and conventional media in general and sports journalism in particular notwithstanding, July 2 is a day dedicated to international sports journalism This time it has caught us all in a very particular psychological condition – year of postponed Olympics – as we all working together to have come out of the COVID-19 nightmare. Three weeks from now when the top elite of the world sports assembles at Tokyo, fears would still be looking large as everyone would keep his or her fingers crossed. Sport goes on, tries to offer hope that the worst is over, but there is no certainty that the storm is over. See how successful the European Football Championship is. At times, the stadiums are packed like sardines with 50 to 60,000 spectators and as many outside watching the game on big screens. Meanwhile, our profession is suffering, finding it hard to breathe as if it is affected by Covid- 19, but there are other causes of this suffering.
The worst hit are freelance or part time sports reporters who normally would get assignments on an event to event basis for their sustenance. But now either the events are not being held or they are held indoors, life has become difficult for hundreds and thousands of sports journalists. We need to express our solidarity with them as they have been very much part of this 149 billion Euro sports industry worldwide.
In his message on the occasion, the President of the International Sports Journalists Federation (AIPS) said that Organisers, federations, clubs are taking our breath away, that is, access to sources. Some limitations are rightly dictated by the health situation, but others are the result of a precise plan that wants to leave us on the sidelines, primed only with press releases, the social profiles of the champions, which are often managed by public relations agencies, and rumours orchestrated by those in power. They also want to cut the number of journalists present at the stadium and then gradually abolish mixed zones. Choking, logically in a gentle way, the freedom of expression in the world of sport.
“The principles that govern social life are no longer of interest; they just want to exploit the lower instincts of the public. This is why we must react, because if we supinely accept the changes taking place, the new generations will have a grim future and this is not right. Sport is also culture, as is sports journalism, as demonstrated by the success of our AIPS Sport Media Awards. We defend this culture and the future of a clean and educational sport,” he concluded.
Looking at our region, our area, we all have seen phenomenal growth of sports writing in general and sports journalism in particular. Though the growth in the field of sports journalism has been slower than expected, writing on sports by those passionate about sports, recreation and entertainment has been on the upswing.
46 years ago when I was credited with starting the first ever weekly sports feature page in vernacular newspapers, little did I realise that I may be pioneers of sports journalism in vernacular media. Though there were some respectable and eminent sports writers, their main avocation was not journalism. One of the most revered, Principal Sawan Singh Dhudike, came from academics.
The doyen of sports journalism in north India was none other than Mr Samuel Banerjee. It was he, who championed the idea of appointing sports reporters at district headquarters. And as luck would have it, I was one of the first three to get a job as a Sports Reporter at Ludhiana in August, 1975, exactly six months after I had introduced a sports page in Jalandhar newspapers. Other two were much bigger names than me – Kanwar Sandhu in Chandigarh and Avinash Singh in Patiala. Soon we were joined by Harbans Virdi in Jalandhar and little later Mr Ashwani Kumar in Hisar.
This move of Mr Samuel Banerjee, who incidentally had the world’s longest running weekly sports column – popular as Sports Sallies – started paying dividends. All major local events were not only covered but achievements of up and coming sports boys and girls were highlighted.
Incidentally it was Mr Samuel Banerjee who penned down Balbit Singh Senior’s book, the Golden Hat-trick”.
Mr Samuel Banerjee died unsung and his contribution remained unacknowledged. It is time for all of us to pay our tributes to him and initiate something to eulogise his dedication and commitment to sports journalism.
Mr Samuel Banerjee rose to be the President of the Sports Journalists Federation of India (SJFI). Those in sports would remember that under his able stewardship, the Chandigarh Sports Journalists Association (CSJA) used to organise annual awards where outstanding sportsmen, women and organisers were felicitated.
Mr Samuel Banerjee was a sportsman, a sports journalist, an able administrator and excellent newsman.
It is time for all of us to sit back and rededicate ourselves. For all of us sports is a passion and let us live for this passion by making our contribution in the way we think we can do best.
Change is the only thing that is permanent but it does not mean that we forget our past and move ahead. Challenges posed by the social media channels cannot take away the glory of the traditional and conventional print and broadcast media. Must remember that printed word enjoys the greatest credibility and nothing can lower it. And printed word has the final say, be it your sacred Granths or other lawful documents.
Happy Sports Journalism Day!!!
*Prabhjot Singh is a Chandigarh-based sports journalist.
Prabhjot Singh is also an alumnus of SCD Govt. College, Ludhiana.
(Pic source: SCD Govt College Ludhiana Coffee Table Book released in Centenary Celebration year )