Sunday 22 October 2017 / 08:12 AM

Problems With Australian Sports Media

In every country, the media commands the popularity of sports and sporting events, and it’s no different here in Australia.  However, compared to the larger sporting countries and continents, there is a worrying difference in the way Australian sports journalists report, cover, portray, analyse and interpret sport.

In the majority of reporting and broadcasting within the Australian media, there is minimal analysis involved. Slowly over the last couple of years this has improved, but there is still a lot left to be desired.  To ensure a target demographic continue to read the papers, log onto websites, listen to podcasts and watch our sports, some (not all) journalists fashion stories by treating sporting codes like a series of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, with the athletes having a starring role. Australian sports journalists are notorious for creating negative and controversial media that is designed with the sole purpose of shocking readers to keep them interested.

Why is it that the majority of sports journalism is detrimental towards players, teams and coaches? Even managers, owners, franchises and organisations suffer. Why is there so much negative broadcasting? Why has it been so long since we’ve read a decent and captivating Australian article that charts the brilliant career of an athlete, or an article scripting a dominant performance during a match, finals series or season? Why are there so many useless articles that dribble on about irrelevant sporting news?

For example, I logged onto a popular Australian sports website mid-2012 and was confronted by an article with the heading ‘Sydney Sixers all-rounder Steve Smith goes gangsta style with cap in KFC T20 Big Bash League match’. This article focussed on Steve Smith wearing his hat to the side in a league game, and how the Big Bash is renowned for its unique take on acceptable on-field fashion. Come on! Seriously, is this a joke? How the hell is this newsworthy? Not once in the article did they discuss Steve’s performance or a single statistic of the game.

There was an article written during the 2012 Origin series calling Cameron Smith a cheat and the author pointed out eight different tackling techniques in which he deemed illegal. Chances are the journalist probably hasn’t played a physical sport, let alone at the top level. The writer called Smith a dirty player and labelled some of his illegal grabs the ‘The Face Rub’, and another, ‘Knee Crowding’ – whatever they mean. Even after the NRL review committee cleared Smith of any wrongdoing, the article was still produced. Why? Cameron Smith is captain of the Australian, Queensland, and Melbourne Storm sides; why shouldn’t he be treated like that? What blew me away was the fact that even after being legally cleared for any misconduct, such disrespect and insinuating comments were still printed. Having an opinion is fine; opinions and armchair sportsmen are what make sports so intriguing. The key is to back up your beliefs with intelligent and credible truths instead of projecting this soap-opera bullshit. Nothing positive can be taken from this article or the many like it.

Why didn’t the journalist discuss the reasons NSW lost game one? How could they improve for game two? Why not write an article outlining the exceptional performances of players during the game? Something that really annoys me is the treatment of the Canterbury Bulldogs during their mad Monday celebrations. I, in no way, condone the language and derogatory comments directed towards the journalists during the now infamous Mad Monday saga, but the question has to be asked: what were the journalists doing there?

Sports teams have been forced to abandon their public Mad Monday celebrations due to the snooping of the media coupled with their own poor behaviour in recent years. So adhering to community pressures, teams will usually celebrate in a private area, away from public scrutiny.

The Bulldogs had just lost a Grand Final and were holding up their end of the deal by conducting their Mad Monday celebrations at their training ground in Belmore. They were indoors, out of the eye of the public, or so they thought. It is a given that players and staff would have had some drinks, like most people do when celebrating. Therefore the journalists know that if they provoke, they will get a reaction. What better way to do that than to try and get a ‘news scoop’ through one of the side windows of the club house?! They got one all right, and then spread it like wildfire. Panned out just how they wanted it to, don’t you think?

But it didn’t stop there. After the comments were made, it should have been obvious to journalists that nothing good was going to come from their attempted interviews, so what do they do next? They send in more journalists and the news helicopter, broadcasting the ‘riveting’ live aerial images of the players running around on the training field in costumes. I mean, come on – really? Is that necessary? The media then drive the hate campaign, calling for the heads of all players involved. It’s a joke.

Journos will argue they are within their rights to be at the clubhouse, which they are. Sport franchises jump through hoops when it comes to dealing with the media, providing press releases and making time in their schedule for the media to attend and ask their uninspiring soap-opera-type questions, even if it is news the club would rather not be publicised. They will very rarely get a favour in return. It is fair to say some journalists act in a privacy redundant loophole similar to the paparazzi. Instead of using their knowledge of sports as their main reporting tool, they simply provoke sportspeople to get stories.

The blatant disregard towards athletes and sport in Australia is getting worse too.

Look at the treatment of the Australian Olympic team during the London Olympic Games – it was downright atrocious. I won’t get started on the recent fall from grace of the Australian swim team; we will be here for hours. Does anyone honestly care that they had some sleeping pills, made some prank calls, or knocked on a few doors and ran? There are wilder parties at my grandma’s retirement home. This article sums it up well: Swimming Must Focus On Problems At The Top Not The Tomfoolery.

Back to the Olympic team! The disrespect was evident in a press conference with Mitchell Watt. Watt, Australia’s 24-year-old long jump silver medallist at the 2012 London Olympics Games, was one of the many athletes disgusted by how much discouragement was shown by the Australian media towards our Olympic athletes.

Below is one of a series of questions directed at Watt straight after his incredible silver medal winning performance:

Reporter: “Aww, a disappointing result?”

 

Yeah, Watt had the shortest odds to win the long jump event; nevertheless, a selection in the Olympic Games is an amazing achievement in itself. Furthermore, at the age of 24, Mitch was the youngest-ever Australian track and field medallist and the first Australian to ever win a long jump medal at a World Championship. Yet even after Watt’s above accomplishments, including five long jump records at stadiums around the world (Shanghai 8.44m, London 8.45m, Rethymno 8.43m, Melbourne 8.44m and New York 8.16m), the media still considered his performance to not be sufficient enough. They then took it upon themselves to label it as ‘a disappointing result’. Mitch was one of the first to stand up for his Olympic team:

Watt: “I think people need to start understanding that it is not easy to win an Olympic gold medal and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a silver medal”; “The team is happy, the coach is happy. I got thousands of messages {from} back home that they are happy. The only people that are not happy are you guys. So you need to wake up”.

 

How do we expect to grow as a sports nation if we don’t even show respect or support to our own sporting athletes?  I don’t have any children myself, but how will this sort of media coverage reflect the younger generation? Are kids in grade one going to grow up with the idea that second place at their first-ever athletics carnival simply isn’t good enough?

It also appears that international sports stars are now in the firing line of Australian journalists. Recently at the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast a journalist wrote an article claiming Kelly Slater was a textbook doping subject. Being a huge topic of discussion in Australia today, this created a media frenzy. This resulted in Slater seeking out the journalist at his next press conference, rightfully asking, “Why did you write that, man?”

Like clockwork, the performance enhancing drug testers were at the competition site the next day.

It would be naive to think that drug cheats don’t exist. They probably do across most sports, but there is a little thing called evidence, which should be used before making such rash statements. This is something ASADA don’t seem to have grasped in the never-ending ‘Drugs in Australian sport’ saga. So, borrowing the question from Slater, why did he write that? Obviously insinuating, but what facts did he base the statement on? He neglected to mention that Slater is one of the more healthy surfers on tour. Slater is heavily into yoga, follows strict diets, and is known not to be a hefty drinker. No point in reporting the truth though, that’s not going to get him anywhere. What better way to create a frenzy than with a bit of speculation, exactly what they do in gossip magazines.

I’m not saying athletes don’t deserve scrutiny at times, as some of our sports stars bring it on themselves. These days, if an Australian sportsperson doesn’t want to accept the fact that they are role models, fair enough. Though the unfortunate reality is, being a professional athlete isn’t the career path for them.

However, the scrutiny now placed on our sports stars is over the top; people make mistakes in life, you would be lying if you told someone you hadn’t. Yet one slip and they are splashed across newspapers and websites, with the players consequently having their problems discussed in a speculative manner at workplaces and homes across Australia. I do believe there is an element of Tall Poppy Syndrome amongst Australian sports journalists (not the former sportsmen in media) towards our sports athletes.  Most journos are overconfident and self-righteous, using their writing to criticise the very people that keep them employed. Sports stars’ avenues for defending themselves are few and far between, rendering them even more defenceless to the media juggernaut.

For years Australia has failed to produce a website that sufficiently reports domestic and international sports. The aim of the Commentary Box Sports website is to offer an Australian-based sports site that creates opinions, reports, and analysis of the popular sports in the domestic and international arenas. Commentary Box Sports was born out of the fundamental belief that there is a lack of passion and support in and for Australian sport. We are concerned and embarrassed how the media critique and portray our sportsmen and sportswomen. Commentary Box Sports invites a forum of truth and uncensored discussion of not only Australia’s greatest pastime, but the world’s. We offer around-the-world, up-to-date coverage of the sports we love and live by. We aim to deliver concise, informative, unsponsored points of view and invite you, the users, to share your thoughts and beliefs. We invite controversial viewpoints and have little time for regurgitated facts. CBS wants to share our passion for sports without any commercial agenda.

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About the author

Drew Woodhouse

Our inspirational leader, Commentary Box Sports founder Drew is a born sports fanatic – particularly when it comes to rugby league, union, surfing NBA and NFL. A Brisbane native currently working out of Sydney, Drew’s occasional writing forays reflect that fierce passion.

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