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Sports journalism

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Title: Sports journalism  
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Sports journalism

Sports journalism is a form of writing that reports on sporting topics and games. While the sports department within some newspapers has been mockingly called the toy department, because sports journalists do not concern themselves with the 'serious' topics covered by the news desk, sports coverage has grown in importance as sport has grown in wealth, power and influence.

Sports journalism is an essential element of any reporting — newspapers such as L'Equipe in France, La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, Marca in Spain, and the defunct Sporting Life in Britain, American magazines such as Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News, all-sports talk radio stations (other than John Kincade, of "Buck and Kincade" on 680TheFan), and television networks such as Eurosport, Fox Sports 1, ESPN and The Sports Network (TSN) and Web Sports News such as Cypriot Action in Sports.


  • Access 1
  • Socio-political significance 2
  • In Europe 3
  • Sports stars in the press box 4
  • Investigative journalism and sport 5
  • Sports books 6
  • Organizations 7
  • Fanzines and blogs 8
  • Smartphones 9
  • Gender 10
  • See also 11
  • Further reading 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


In professional and some collegiate sports in the United States, it is common practice to allow properly accredited sports reporters into locker rooms for interviews with players and coaching staff after games, while the sports teams provide extensive information support.

Sports including American football, ice hockey, basketball and baseball understand the essential commercial relationship between media coverage and increased ticket, merchandise and advertising sales.

In the coverage of association football, the journalist's role often seems to be barely tolerated by the clubs and players. For example, despite contractual media requirements in the English Premier League, prominent managers Sir Alex Ferguson (of Manchester United) and Harry Redknapp (formerly of Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur), refused to conduct post-match interviews on occasions with the rights-holder BBC because of perceived unfavorable coverage.

As with reporters on other news beats, sports journalism should involve investigating the story, rather than simply relying on press releases and prepared statements from the sports team, coaching staff, or players. Sports journalists are expected to verify facts given to them by the athletes, teams, leagues, or organizations they are covering.

Socio-political significance

Major League Baseball gave print journalists a special role in its games. They were named official scorers and kept statistics that were considered part of the official record of the league. Active sportswriters were removed from this role in 1980. Although their statistical judgment calls could not affect the outcome of a game in progress, the awarding of errors and wins/saves were seen as powerful influences on pitching staff selections and play lists when coach decisions seemed unusual. The removal of writers, who could benefit fiscally from sensational sports stories, was done to remove this perception of a conflict of interest, and to increase statistics volume, consistency, and accuracy.

Sports stories occasionally transcend the games themselves and take on socio-political significance: Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball is an example of this. Modern controversies regarding the hyper-compensation of top athletes, the use of anabolic steroids and other, banned performance-enhancing drugs, and the cost to local and national governments to build sports venues and related infrastructure, especially for Olympic Games, also demonstrates how sports can intrude on to the news pages.

Sportswriters regularly face more deadline pressure than other reporters because sporting events tend to occur late in the day and closer to the deadlines many organizations must observe. Yet they are expected to use the same tools as news journalists, and to uphold the same professional and ethical standards. They must take care not to show bias for any team.

Many of the most talented and respected print journalists have been sportswriters. (See List of sports writers.)

In Europe

The tradition of sports reporting attracting some of the finest writers in journalism can be traced to the coverage of sport in Victorian England, where several modern sports – such as association football, athletics and rugby – were first organized and codified into something resembling what we would recognize today.

Andrew Warwick has suggested that The Boat Race provided the first mass spectator event for journalistic coverage.[1] The Race was an annual rowing event in college athletics from 1856.

Cricket, possibly because of its esteemed place in society, has regularly attracted the most elegant of writers. The Manchester Guardian, in the first half of the 20th century, employed Neville Cardus as its cricket correspondent as well as its music critic. Cardus was later knighted for his services to journalism. One of his successors, John Arlott, who became a worldwide favorite because of his radio commentaries on the BBC, was also known for his poetry.

The first London Olympic Games in 1908 attracted such widespread public interest that many newspapers assigned their very best-known writers to the event. The Daily Mail even had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the White City Stadium to cover the finish of the Marathon.

Such was the drama of that race, in which Dorando Pietri collapsed within sight of the finishing line when leading, that Conan Doyle led a public subscription campaign to see the gallant Italian, having been denied the gold medal through his disqualification, awarded a special silver cup, which was presented by Queen Alexandra. And the public imagination was so well caught by the event that annual races in Boston, Massachusetts, and London, and at future Olympics, were henceforward staged over exactly the same, 26-mile, 385-yard distance used for the 1908 Olympic Marathon, and the official length of the event worldwide to this day.

The London race, called the Polytechnic Marathon and originally staged over the 1908 Olympic route from outside the royal residence at Windsor Castle to White City, was first sponsored by the Sporting Life, which in those Edwardian times was a daily newspaper which sought to cover all sporting events, rather than just a betting paper for horse racing and greyhounds that it became in the years after the Second World War.

The rise of the radio made sports journalism more focused on the live coverage of the sporting events. The first sports reporter in Great Britain, and one of the first sports reporters in the World, was an English writer Edgar Wallace, who made a report on the Epsom Derby on June 6, 1923 for the British Broadcasting Company.

In France, L'Auto, the predecessor of L'Equipe, had already played an equally influential part in the sporting fabric of society when it announced in 1903 that it would stage an annual bicycle race around the country. The Tour de France was born, and sports journalism's role in its foundation is still reflected today in the leading rider wearing a yellow jersey - the color of the paper on which L'Auto was published (in Italy, the Giro d'Italia established a similar tradition, with the leading rider wearing a jersey the same pink color as the sponsoring newspaper, La Gazzetta).

Sports stars in the press box

After the Second World War, the sports sections of British national daily and Sunday newspapers continued to expand, to the point where many papers now have separate standalone sports sections; some Sunday tabloids even have sections, additional to the sports pages, devoted solely to the previous day's football reports. In some respects, this has replaced the earlier practice of many regional newspapers which - until overtaken by the pace of modern electronic media - would produce special results editions rushed out on Saturday evenings.

Some newspapers, such as The Sunday Times, with 1924 Olympic 100 metres champion Harold Abrahams, or the London Evening News using former England cricket captain Sir Leonard Hutton, began to adopt the policy of hiring former sports stars to pen columns, which were often ghost written. Some such ghosted columns, however, did little to further the reputation of sports journalism, which is increasingly becoming the subject of academic scrutiny of its standards.

Many "ghosted" columns were often run by independent sports agencies, based in Fleet Street or in the provinces, who had signed up the sports star to a contract and then syndicated their material among various titles. These agencies included Pardons, or the Cricket Reporting Agency, which routinely provided the editors of the Wisden cricket almanac, and Hayters.

Sportswriting in Britain has attracted some of the finest journalistic talents. The Daily Mirror's Peter Wilson, Hugh McIlvanney, first at The Observer and lately at the Sunday Times, Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail and soccer writer Brian Glanville, best known at the Sunday Times, and columnist Patrick Collins, of the Mail on Sunday, five times the winner of the Sports Writer of the Year Award.

Many became household names in the late 20th century through their trenchant reporting of often earth-shattering events that have transcended the back pages and been reported on the front pages: the David Beckham, Lester Piggott and other high profile stars.

McIlvanney and Wooldridge, who died in March 2007, aged 75, both enjoyed careers that saw them frequently work in television. During his career, Wooldridge became so famous that, like the sports stars he reported upon, he hired the services of IMG, the agency founded by the American businessman, Mark McCormack, to manage his affairs. Glanville wrote several books, including novels, as well as scripting the memorable official film to the 1966 World Cup staged in England.

Investigative journalism and sport

Since the 1990s, the growing importance of sport, its impact as a global business and the huge amounts of money involved in the staging of events such as the Olympic Games and football World Cups, has also attracted the attention of investigative journalists. The sensitive nature of the relationships between sports journalists and the subjects of their reporting, as well as declining budgets experienced by most Fleet Street newspapers, has meant that such long-term projects have often emanated from television documentary makers.

Tom Bower, with his 2003 sports book of the year Broken Dreams, which analyzed British football, followed in the tradition established a decade earlier by Andrew Jennings and Vyv Simson with their controversial investigation of corruption within the International Olympic Committee. Jennings and Simson's The Lords of the Rings in many ways predicted the scandals that were to emerge around the staging of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; Jennings would follow-up with two further books on the Olympics and one on FIFA, the world football body.

Likewise, award-winning writers Duncan Mackay, of The Guardian, and Steven Downes unravelled many scandals involving doping, fixed races and bribery in international athletics in their 1996 book, Running Scared, which offered an account of the threats by a senior track official that led to the suicide of their sports journalist colleague, Cliff Temple.

But the writing of such exposes - referred to as "spitting in the soup" by Paul Kimmage, the former Tour de France professional cyclist, now an award-winning writer for the Sunday Times – often requires the view of an outsider who is not compromised by the need of day-to-day dealings with sportsmen and officials, as required by "beat" correspondents.

The stakes can be high when upsetting sport's powers: in 2007, England's FA opted to switch its multi-million-pound contract for UK coverage rights of the FA Cup and England international matches from the BBC to rival broadcasters ITV. One of the reasons cited was that the BBC had been too critical of the performances of the England football team.

Sports books

Increasingly, sports journalists have turned to long-form writing, producing popular books on a range of sporting topics, including biographies, history and investigations. Dan Topolski was the first recipient of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 1989, which has continued to reward authors for their excellence in sports literature.


Most countries have their own national association of sports journalists. Many sports also have their own clubs and associations for specified journalists. These organizations attempt to maintain the standard of press provision at sports venues, to oversee fair accreditation procedures and to celebrate high standards of sports journalism.

The International Sports Press Association, AIPS, was founded in 1924 during the Olympic Games in Paris, at the headquarters of the Sporting Club de France, by Frantz Reichel, the press chief of the Paris Games, and the Belgian Victor Boin. AIPS operates through a system of continental sub-associations and national associations, and liaises closely with some of the world's biggest sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee, football's world governing body FIFA, and the IAAF, the international track and field body. The first statutes of AIPS mentioned these objectives:

  • to enhance the cooperation between its member associations in defending sport and the professional interest of their members.
  • to strengthen the friendship, solidarity and common interests between sports journalists of all countries.
  • to assure the best possible working conditions for the members.

For horse racing the Horserace Writers and Photographers’ Association was founded in 1927, was revived in 1967, and represents the interests of racing journalists in every branch of the media.

Press room at the Philips Stadion, home of PSV Eindhoven, prior to a press conference

In Britain, the Sports Journalists' Association was founded in 1948. It stages two awards events, an annual Sports Awards ceremony which recognizes outstanding performances by British sportsmen and women during the previous year, and the British Sports Journalism Awards, the industry's "Oscars", sponsored by UK Sport and presented each March. Originally founded as the Sports Writers' Association, following a merger with the Professional Sports Photographers' Association in 2002, the organization changed its title to the more inclusive SJA. Its president is the veteran broadcaster and columnist Martin Samuel, then the chief football correspondent of The Times, was named British Sportswriter of the Year, the first time any journalist had managed to win the award three years in succession. At the same awards, Jeff Stelling, of Sky Sports, was named Sports Broadcaster of the Year for the third time, a prize determined by a ballot of SJA members. Stelling won the vote again the following year, when the Sunday Times's Paul Kimmage won the interviewer of the year prize for a fifth time.

In the United States, the Indianapolis-based National Sports Journalism Center monitors trends and strategy within the sports media industry. The center is also home to the Associated Press Sports Editors, the largest group of sports media professionals in the country.

In more recent years, sports journalism has turned its attention to online news and press release media[2] and provided services to Associated Press and other major news syndication services. This has become even more apparent with the increase in online social engagement. This has led to an increasing number of freelance journalism in the sports industry and an explosion of sports related news and industry websites.

Fanzines and blogs

Through the 1970s and '80s, a rise in "citizen journalism" in Europe was witnessed in the rapid growth in popularity of soccer "fanzines" - cheaply printed magazines written by fans for fans that bypassed often stilted official club match programs and traditional media. Many continue today and thrive.

Some authors have been adopted by their clubs - Jim Munro, once editor of the West Ham United fanzine Fortune's Always Dreaming, was hired by the club to write for its matchday magazine and is now sports editor of The Sun Online. Other titles, such as the irreverent monthly soccer magazine When Saturday Comes, have effectively gone mainstream.

The advent of the internet has seen much of this fan-generated energy directed into sports blogs. Ranging from team-centric blogs to those that cover the sports media itself, Bleacher Report,,, Tireball Sports, AOL Fanhouse, Masshole Sports, the blogs in the Yardbarker Network, and others have garnered massive followings.

Blogging has also been taken up by sportspeople such as Curt Schilling, Paula Radcliffe, Greg Oden, Donovan McNabb, and Chris Cooley.


Since the beginning of smartphones and the use of applications, sports media has taken off and has become accessible from almost anywhere at any time. Not only can fans check the scores on different apps such as ESPN and Global Sports Media, but people can use social media apps as well to find out different scores. These apps give score updates, rosters, game schedules, injury updates, and much more right when it happens. People can get real time results right from their phone. They do not need to be at the game, or right by their television, to see how their favorite team is doing. Now people can stream games right from their phone.

This type of fast, easy information is very important to sports fans. As stated in a Time magazine,[3] “Enthusiastic fans are eager for updates on their favorite teams and the opportunity to rant about what went wrong in the playoffs or why their coach should be fired”. Many people want to discuss matters about sports, teams and games, and this article shows that with the sports apps, the news can be found at a moment’s notice.

Thanks to the smartphone, a fan no longer has to wait for scores or search the web for information on players. All the information is available at the palm of their hand. Sports apps do not always have to be about giving scores, as some applications include workout helpers, rule books, and even games. The workout apps can show how the professionals’ workout and can give inspiration to do the same workout. The rule books are important, because it spreads the knowledge about the game, and it can get people interested in new games. The games apps are a good way of teaching people how the game is played, and can give players a bigger interest in a specific sport. All of these different apps are a part of sports media in the form of using smartphones and apps. This helps spread information about sports to anyone who wants it.

Smartphones can not only be used just for scores, they can also help athletes become known and recruited. These days most everything is caught on camera, and that includes great plays made by athletes. Once a video is taken it will be spread through the social media sites in no time.


The number of females in the sports journalism industry is rapidly growing, and this has caused a lot of controversy in recent years. Many traditionalists believe that the sporting industry should be predominately for men, and female journalists have endured a lot of criticism for breaking the mold.

There has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not female reporters should be allowed in the locker rooms after games. If they are denied access, this gives male reporters a competitive advantage in the field, as they can interview players in the locker room after games. If locker room access is denied to all reporters - male and female - because of this controversy, male journalists would likely resent female reporters for having their access taken away.

Some breakthrough female reporters include Adeline Daley (whom some consider the "Jackie Robinson of female sportswriters"[4]), Tracy Dodds, Mary Garber, Lesley Visser and Sally Jenkins.

See also

Further reading

  • Steen, R, Sports Journalism: A Multimedia Primer, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 978-0-415-39424-6
  • Wilstein, Steve, AP Sports Writing Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 2001, ISBN 978-0-07-137218-3, ISBN 0-07-137218-0


  1. ^ Andrew Warwick (2003) Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics, page 213, University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-87374-9
  2. ^ "Submit Your Sports Press Release". Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Social Media and Sports: Natural Teammates". 26 January 2012. Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Kipen, David (2004-07-27). "Fact: The Golden State is the epicenter of baseball, a mother lode of sun-ripened talent". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 

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