There is no doubt that Cricket is King in India when it comes to sports coverage. There is cricket on the television almost 24 hours a day from local games to international games, as well as even Masters internationals, there is no end to the coverage.
Pick up a newspaper and it is the same. Most of the newspapers are broadsheet newspapers and every day there is at least one whole page dedicated to cricket and on many occasions two pages. It is very hard for other sports to compete with such saturated coverage.
Australian Rules Football does not have quite such similar coverage in Australia but by comparison it does dominate the media coverage of sport in certain states.
There are some in India who feel that this saturation and domination by one sport is detrimental to sport as a whole and ultimately the participation numbers of those playing sport. Cricket is portrayed as a swashbuckling game for heroes with massive financial rewards for those who make it, and with almost back to back coverage it would appear that opportunities abound for aspiring players to make it to the top. The fact that uncapped Indian left armer Pawan Negi was picked up in the Indian Premier League T20 cricket auction for approximately USD$1.35million, helps perpetrate the myth that anyone can make it.
There is no doubt that other Indian athletes and sports are suffering because of Cricket’s total domination and many in Australia would argue the same in relation to Australian Rules, but on a lesser scale. This was of course why Not the Footy Show was created, and before the show went off air when the station closed we had featured over 75 sports in over 400 shows.
This year is an Olympic year and so for about four weeks of the year newspapers and television stations will turn their attention to the sports featured, and suddenly a nation will become aware of athletes who have been toiling for four years or more for recognition, yet as soon as the games are over many will be pushed back into oblivion.
Four years ago in Australia those with a genuine interest in the games had to endure shocking coverage of the London Olympic Games from Channel Nine, where they tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Cricketer Michael Slater was given the diving to cover, he actually said on air words to the effect of ‘all I know is the bigger the splash determines how bad the dive is.’ Insulting to those who follow the sport, and even more so to those who have dedicated their lives in pursuit of an Olympic medal in the sport.
The problem that the lack of informed coverage brings is unrealistic expectations. When focus does turn to the Olympic Games suddenly an expectation that certain athletes are assured of bringing home Gold start to surface. Yet winning an Olympic medal of any colour is a huge achievement. There are many great Champions who have never taken home Gold from an Olympic Games; and many of them spend the rest of their lives looking back on that fact. Sergei Bubka the Ukrainian Pole Vaulter was World Champion in his event for 14 years, in his career there were five Olympic Games, one that saw Russia boycott, but he only medalled in one. In Seoul in 1988 he won gold in 92 he failed to clear the height in his first three attempts, in 96 in Atlanta he had to withdraw with a heel injury and in Sydney in 2000 he was eliminated in the final failing in three attempts to clear 5.70m. He is not alone, many of the greatest athletes never won Olympic Gold. Sir Roger Bannister who broke the four minute mile barriers came fourth in 1952.The only Indian runner to break an Olympic record Milkha Singh who had beaten all of the finalists he was up against in 1956 bar one, also failed to medal having to settle for fourth.
Just to illustrate how the lack of coverage can affect a sport Milkha Singh’s Gold medal at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff was the only Gold medal won by India at this event until Vikas Gowda won Gold at the 2015 Commonwealth games in the discus.
So how much does this lack of coverage affect the expectations of a nation? In India following their first bronze medal in a major international Hockey Tournament for 33 years in December last year people are talking about them finishing on the podium in Rio. Yet ask anyone who follows the game and they will tell you such an event is unlikely. In major tournaments India has failed to beat four of the top five ranked sides in the World in normal time, Australia, Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. They beat Great Britain in the Hockey World League finals in the quarter final, but GB rested some of its senior players for the tournament. India is ranked seventh in the World so for it to climb four places and finish with bronze would be a huge upset. Yet because the team does not have balanced coverage and limited coverage if they fail to medal many will view it as a failure. This is unfair.
In London Australia won seven gold medals at the Olympic Games in 2012. How many of those athletes can you name? (Answer below) What does that tell you about how these sportsmen and women are treated. They are in our thoughts and our living rooms for a couple of months and then fade into oblivion for another four years, or if they medal at a World Championships.
How many people knew that Australia’s Paralympic team in London finished 5th on the medal table as opposed to the able-bodied athletes who were 10th, and won 32 Gold medals and 85 medals in total? Their able-bodied counterparts won 35 medals.
So as much as the major sports may hug the limelight, and as a result reap the financial rewards from television and sponsorship as a result of their exposure, how much is this coverage detrimental to the sporting landscape as a whole? How many young athletes are discouraged from continuing in their chosen sport simply because they can see there is no coverage and nothing to aspire to in terms of role models or heroes? Sport plays a great part in society and the wide choice of sporting activities enables many people not suitable for one sport to be active in another. Yet a lack of exposure means that many fail to find their niche.
How many top athletes will tell you that the performance of an individual or a team inspired them to take up the sport that they eventually excelled in? For example the first Scotsman to be playing in the Hockey India League, Kenny Bain, cites his hero as being Australian Travis Brooks who scored in Australia’s only Gold medal winning side in the final of the men’s Hockey at the Athens Olympics.
Heroes know no boundaries and their influence can be far reaching, but they cannot touch the lives of the next generation without media exposure.
Australia’s Gold medallists in London 2012 –
Swimming: 4 X 100m Freestyle relay – Cate Campbell, Alicia Coutts, Brittany Elmslie, Yolane Kukla* Melanie Schlanger Emily Seebohm* Lisbeth Trickett*
* competed in preliminaries but not the final.
Sailing – Tom Slingsby – Laser class
Cycling – Anna Meares
Athletics – Sally Pearson – 100m Hurdles
Sailing – Iain Jensen, Nathan Outteridge – 49er Class
Canoeing – Jacob Clear, David Smith, Tate Smith, Murray Stewart – Men’s K4 1000m
Sailing – Malcolm Page, Mathew Belcher – 470 class.
How did you do?