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Give me less

“Why do most media, not just HT, ignore mass sports?” asked one reader last week. “Take a survey of… Indian schools. How many percentage points after the decimal is prevalence of golf [in the sports curriculum]? Yet there are half-page pictures and articles dedicated to this [sport].”

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 15:59 IST
Sumana Ramanan

Sumana Ramanan
Senior Editor

“Why do most media, not just HT, ignore mass sports?” asked one reader last week. “Take a survey of… Indian schools. How many percentage points after the decimal is prevalence of golf [in the sports curriculum]? Yet there are half-page pictures and articles dedicated to this [sport].”

He further complained that, “the hugely lopsided space allocation to cricket — often two full sports pages — and little else, is very disappointing. What message does that send to today’s youngsters and kids?”

He ended thus: “I know that this is not a new subject, but really if we have to inculcate a sporting culture and nurture sporting talent, and we can, does the media not have a role to play?”

Let’s begin with cricket. Iamnot exactly a fan of the game, holding the blasphemous opinion that an activity that does not require sustained running and includes a break for tea cannot possibly qualify as a serious sport. But I would be the first to admit that I am vastly, massively, colossally outnumbered in this country.

So if the media’s job is to reflect society (which itself is debatable), then I would say that there is nothing wrong with the extensive coverage newspapers give to cricket. Who would contest that the gameis a national obsession that cuts across class and other divides?

But certainly, the media must go beyond passively reflecting social trends to actively mould public opinion based on whatever values it cherishes. So, if a newspaper feels that the hysteria over cricket hurts other sports, then it can, or ought to, redress this in many ways.

One way is merely to generously highlight achievements of individuals in other sports, which is what our Mumbai sports editor, Sukhwant Basra, says we do.

“Cricket has a mass following, so we do ensure that cricket is well-reported on our pages,” he said. “But HT is possibly the only mass-circulating English daily that treats sports according to the story at hand instead of blindly giving space to cricket.”

Our sports coverage over the first twoand-a-half months this year bears this out. Just last week, on March 16 and 17, the lead story in our sports section was about Jeev Milkha Singh and his progress in the WGC-CA golf championship in Miama, USA.

This is precisely what must have sparked the reader’s comment about the space we gave an elite game like golf. I agree that golf is played by a miniscule percentage of Indians, but it featured on our pages only because one of us was doing well in an international tournament.

“While others were busy playing up the Indian cricket team’s tour of New Zealand, we decided to play up Jeev Milkha Singh’s US tour,” Basra said.

Similarly, earlier in the year, we highlighted Indian tennis player Somdev Devvarman’s good showing in the Chennai Open, in which he reached the finals and then lost to Croatia’s Marin Cilic.We also gave generous space to Yuki Bhambri’s victory in theAustralian Open junior tennis championship, the first

Indian to have done this. “In fact, for the whole of January, on more than 15 days, cricket was not the lead story of the sports section,” said Basra.

Is allowing cricket to usurp the lead spot half the time still going overboard?

Perhaps. Also, the past two-and-a-half months may be an exception in terms of the coverage we give to other sports.

So let’s all keep a close watch on our sports coverage. Equally important, continue sending in your comments so we know what you feel.

And don’t hesitate to give us ideas about how we could broaden our coverage.

Until next week…