At any time during the day you can be rest assured that a TV or radio news bulletin will have updated rugby, soccer or cricket scores. Most newspapers will have pages of stories on the aforementioned sports. Websites will have “the big three” on their home page. Yet the number of people who ran the Two Oceans Half and Marathon is far greater the number of professional players in the IPL, Super Rugby or any nation’s Premier League Football.
At the time of writing, Spain’s Clemente Alonso-McKernan had just been crowned the 2012 Ironman South Africa champion. Unless you live in Port Elizabeth you probably wouldn’t know that the event happened. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio finished fifth in the Fleche Wallonne Femme cycle race. Ashleigh who? Maybe you’ve heard of Ryan Sandes, our desert running champion who has won multiple 6/7-day, 250-kilometer self-supported races through some of the world’s most hostile terrains? Probably not.
Yet many of us know all about some uncouth millionaire footballer who rolls on the floor crying when an opponent just looks at him. You quite possibly even wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch local rugby teams as they slug it out in Australia and New Zealand (blaming the ref all the while). The current IPL games are screened and almost immediately afterwards the entire game is re-screened on the same channel. The mainstream media certainly has rugby, soccer and cricket covered. But does anyone know if gold medal winning Mbulaeni Mulaudzi is running this weekend? Or if he still competes?
Now I am not saying that we should abandon the big three in favour of coverage for bass-fishing or ten-pin bowling, but a bit of balance would be nice. We have so many sports personalities that we can be proud of and host so many world-class events but we rarely hear of them. Alberto Contador’s drug useage hits the headlines and is possibly the cycling news we are all familiar with, yet there is virtually no cover of Daryl Impey as he prepares for the Giro ‘d Italia.
On the one hand, only a cycling nut will appreciate watching the Tour De France and watch how team tactics shape the race. Watching people run for 42,2km is also less fun than you might think. Bowls is exciting for an incredibly small portion of the population. But what about those of us who could care less about which overpaid European footballer scores the most goals? I enjoy cricket but can’t be bothered to watch the highlights package of a game that has already been screened twice.
The other problem with niche sports (though if we consider that close to 30 000 people enter the Argus each year we can hardly consider cycling a niche), is that the TV shows dedicated to them are often poor in terms of quality. More often than not footage is obtained through one or two static cameras and afterwards a dance track and voice over is added. It is hardly engaging viewing though I suspect cost comes into play.
The press only seems interested in running, swimming, netball or hockey if one of our teams comes from nowhere to win an Olympic medal. Occasionally, men’s magazines will feature a photoshoot of a netball player in a bikini, but coverage of sports (and women’s teams within those sports) leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Quality of reporting and the amount of coverage will be determined by the popularity of a sporting event, but if we have little mention and poor quality reporting of certain sports, how will viewerships grow? I cringe when I watch certain cycling, fishing or swimming programs but also know that the only way to improve them is through the wallet of a generous sponsor. And perhaps employing presenters who can read cue-cards fluently.
I can’t foresee the situation changing any time soon. The little coverage we do have of events such as Ironman is compiled by journalists who have little knowledge of triathlons; and the blogs or sites that have expert opinions are not always well written – being a former professional athlete does not automatically make someone a good journalist.
It seems silly for major media houses, particularly those with online publications, to actively encourage people to look elsewhere for news and information on niche sports. Over one thousand people participate in Ironman each year with tens of thousands supporting the event – that’s a lot of potential readers to lose because you would sooner focus on a cricket tournament (that has few South African players) in another continent. Given that a number of competitors are from outside of South Africa, a potential international audience is also lost. If people who are interested in a sporting event can’t find the information they want on major news sites they will go somewhere else. Simple.
We can’t expect stadiums full of spectators to watch a tiddly-winks tournament and I doubt we shall ever see the day when bowls players are hounded by paparazzi, but for now, is it too much to ask for media houses to mention niche South African events and successful competitors in these events? Or at the very least, only repeat soccer, cricket and rugby highlights packages fewer than ten times per game?
Find Shaun online at www.gingercomedy.co.za or on Twitter - @shaunwewege.