If I were to use a boxing metaphor to describe a letter that I received last week savaging our sports coverage, it would be a combination of a hook punch, nose jab and eye slap.
“Your sports pages do not have space for sports in and around the city, state and country,” wrote Brian B, who described himself as an ardent HT reader and an admirer of our national and comment pages.
“A major chunk of space is devoted to cricket and foreign events like the Spanish and Turkish football leagues, cycling or golf, picked up or downloaded from various sites.”
“It is also hard to understand your sports desk’s obsession with car racing and the…wives and girlfriends of sports celebrities…” Being pusillanimous, I ducked and let the full force of this triple move fall on our very sporting sports editor, Sukhwant Basra.
This is what he had to say: “HT Sports makes it a point to give prominence to Indian sportspersons. We regularly give news priority over any single sport. We are continuously looking to break news rather than just package it. At HT we have no directions from the top management or the proprietors to play up one sport or the other. “That is because we do not believe that the Indian reader follows only one sport. We also feel that our readers are discerning enough to read a solid story, no matter what sporting discipline it is about. “In fact we are consciously looking to push the envelope of sports reportage in India by exploring alternative and adventure sport. Our weekend pages—especially the Rush page on Sunday—offer you an absolutely different take from most other papers.
“It is not content that you would find on the net or another source.
“We would like to give more space to local sports, but all newspapers have been forced to cut pages on account of the economic slowdown. As such, we are forced to choose between a good local story and international stories that appeal to a wider audience. Most times, the bigger story wins.”
Given that I am supposed to play referee, I did a random survey of our sports coverage on three recent days, which is admittedly a very small sample.
At least on those three days, I found just two of the readers’ many criticisms to be justified —that we give a lot of space to car racing and that we hardly cover local sports. I have space here to comment on just the pages of the past two Saturday’s sports sections. Yesterday, the lead story of our opening sports page (one of four pages) examined how Indian cricketers were reacting to the introduction of a doping code for the sport. It contrasted this to the stance of top players in other sports. The second lead was about India’s under-19 football team. The third was a report about a meeting of the Cricket Association of Bengal that chose to highlight Saurav Ganguly’s comments.
None of the three stories were picked up from websites. They were all written by our sports writers. All three were national stories. One was not about cricket and the other was much more a story about doping than one purely about cricket.
Last Saturday, the entire opening page (one of three) were stories that were off the beaten track. The lead story was about a village of 500 people in Himachal Pradesh that is like India’s nursery for skiers—a national story. The second lead was about the world of less-known games in the world, some of which are also played in India, such as ball badminton. Both were also reported by our sports writers. On both Saturday’s we had a full page, Rush, devoted to fitness and adventure sports. On both days, almost half of the last page was given over to car racing.