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Fluffy Boundaries

Fluffy Boundaries

by Nick Pawson / 13.02.2012

I attended a post-match press conference at Newlands two Fridays ago, following the Stormers’ 28-6 win over the Lions. I was always told not to read into the results of these pre-season games. Nevertheless, the battles on the field seemed just as fierce as they are during the Super Rugby season, and the press conferences are exactly the same – restrained, predictable and full of the old rugby clichés.

Prior to becoming a freelancer, I was a sports reporter for one of our national broadcasters. I landed the job with luck and good timing, considering I had very little experience – which might explain why I went into these media gatherings with a different mindset. What stood out, from day one, was how reluctant most South African sports journalists are to ask the tough questions.

I was reminded of this during the above press conference. It took place the same day that Heyneke Meyer was elected as the new Springbok coach, and, considering Stormers’ coach Allister Coetzee had been touted as a firm favourite to take over from P Divvy, I was expecting a barrage of questions on how Allister felt about the new Bok appointment.

Nothing. Not one Bok-related question. Just the usual “were you happy with your defence?”…”How is so-and-so’s injury?”…yawn.

So I took the liberty of asking Allister his thoughts on the new Springbok era under the tutelage of the former Bulls coach. He gave us a pretty pragmatic answer, and felt Meyer was the right choice. Allister Coetzee is known for his diplomacy; he really is a good oke – so I wasn’t expecting anything different. The point is, it was a question that needed to be asked. Too often I’ve walked away from press conferences that were merely match post-mortems.

I’m sure there are loads of purists out there that care about the finer details of the game, myself included, but what I’d really like to know is what Andries Bekker – the tallest and most identifiable human being in the Western Cape – was thinking when he courted a young student in public last year, and how his extra-marital affairs have affected him as a player. South African sportsmen and coaches are wrapped in cotton wool by their administrators, and our journalists, for whatever reason, respect those fluffy boundaries.

What really put perspective on the conservative nature of South African sports reporting, were the times when I shared a press room with British journalists – namely during the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2009, and England’s inbound series against the Proteas in 2009/2010.

British journos fear no one. Sure, the British media industry – print in particular – is a lot more competitive than ours, and many of their reporters are just looking for tabloid fodder. But they actually voice the questions that are on everybody’s minds. They’re also veterans of the game – confident men and women in their 50s who have made a career out of reporting, versus our journalists who seem to have a collective age of 50. No doubt media jobs pay far better in Europe, which makes the investment worthwhile.

Other than that, I’m not sure why our sports writers are so obedient, but I suspect it has a lot to do with freedom of speech being a relatively new concept in the context of our political history. We (sports journos) also seem to have this ‘buddy buddy’ relationship with our sports stars that we’re determined to uphold, for fear of being denied future interviews and losing access to the inside track. The irony is that the majority of these journalists don’t use that inside track to tell the full story.

Well I say bollocks to that.

*Opening image © The Stormers.

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RESPONSES (9)
  1. Phumlani says:

    Guttting. Now that Pete’s gone I doubt there’ll ever be another black Springbok coach.

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  2. Braithers says:

    Great article Nick – keep up the good work. Your hero Mark Braithwaite

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  3. Vuyo says:

    @ Phumlani-Black coach or white coach,it makes no difference,the boks are fucked for at least the next five years.The standard of play and players is at an all time low and with the shower of cunts we have to pick and choose from to prance around on the field and act like meerkats on heat it will be years before we have a decent bok team again.As for Meyer…well that prick is of about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

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  4. Phumlani says:

    I don’t the team will be that bad man. Players have never been the problem when it comes to the boks. S.A undoubtedly has got some of the greatest rugby talent in the world. It’s really always been management and strategy thay I’ve had a problem with. Meyer is the perfect candidate to take the boks back to their roots in terms of play. Good luck to them.

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  5. Classy says:

    Vuyo – are you Owen Nkumani or Hanyani Shimangi?

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  6. Andy says:

    is Vuyo watching the same Springboks as us?

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  7. nero says:

    I think players’ private lives should be afforded more privacy than other public figures. Sport is a bit different to music, film, or politics where the private life of that figure tends to be branded and made a part of the sales package. Player’s often don’t court the media in the same way as actors or musicians and some of them really just want to play the game and go home.

    On the other hand, if you’re a player that’s got your own cookbook, or you are selling potato chips or burgers, I think your private life is fair game.

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  8. Telford Vice says:

    Good stuff, Nick. The reason SA sports journos don’t think – and write – more independently is that they believe they are part of the game. They think their constituency is the players. It is, in fact, the reading public. This wrongheadedness has taken hold because the evil that is marketing has long since established that the way to a sportswriter’s heart is through his or her drinking problem or freebie fetish, or both. This also means writers buy into the bullshit that their only access to players is at press conferences, which are almost always a waste of time. The thought of actually contacting a player outside of office hours is anathema to most writers. As long as that is the case, do not expect the thinking to stray out of the box in our mainstream sporting discourse.

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  9. Alecia says:

    Agree with Telford.It does not help either that some of these same so called journalists are often ghost writers for player autobiographies, compromising their objectivity. Journos need to stop being fans and groupies and become serious analysts.not asking the serious questions is why the clique of Smith is allowed to influence selections.

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