Limits to Ethiopian Sport Journalism

Ethiopian sport journalism witnesses multiple problems. But lack of professionalism stands out taller. It is common to watch, hear and read journalists analysing events on the basis of impressions, feelings and emotions. It seems that objectivity is a misnomer.

Sports, in general, and football, in particular, have held prime places in the newspapers and radio airtime in the Ethiopian media for over half a century. If we follow the present trend and its growth pace, we can see the coverage is growing fast.

Ever since football was first discovered in Great Britain, its popularity has been steadily growing. It seems that even countries, such as the US and China, are catching up and making it their own thing of indulgence.

As such, sport journalists have played a significant role in watering this growth and development over the years. In looking back at our history, we can recall prominent names, such as Fikiru Kidane, Solomon Tessema, Nega Woldeselassie, Yimberbru Mitike, Gorfineh Yimer, Demissie Damte, and Girma Negash, among others.

Lately, however, sport has struck a chord with development plans and strategies. But in the field of reporting, with all due respect to journalists, there is lack of clear line between reporting and expressing impressions. Criticism requires to have professional thoughts, usually based on education. This may not be accepted by many of the reporters in the Ethiopian media. And I will not surprised, because failing to accept criticism has been characteristic to us, in general, leave alone in the sports field. I leave the judgement to my readers.

Let me be a little bit more specific, though. I often watch the sports reviews by journalists of the national television broadcast every Sunday morning. The group comprises of experienced reporters. I am not sure about their professional backgrounds, but my observations is not positive on that.

In the first place, they do not seem to outline their format and apportion their time between them, to the exactitude of minutes, not to speak of seconds. And often, they fail to demarcate the line between critical analysis and haphazard impressions.

Let me remark in terms of context. Last week, for example, they were messing up issues like ages background, training of players, infrastructure, coaching quality and functions of the football federation. I was surprised to see how much they are driven by impressions.

Ethiopian sport journalists find it easier to report on European football matches. This is largely because they can refer internet reports and views. Those views and remarks emanate from professional coaches and comments by former authorities on the subject, most of which are professionals.

As far as our football is concerned, reporting the progress of the game is what they are good at. In trying to give any comment of one’s own views, however, they often take comfort in subjective generalisations and unsubstantiated claims. One can find no seed of professionalism in their remarks, analysis and conclusion.

Further, they tend to repeat the problem time and again. After all, sport is all about entertainment. It is not vital and essential for subsistence. We have more critical issues to worry about than football.

The other point to consider is whether or not our physiology is fit to be a footballer or an athlete. I remember watching a university lecturer, supported by a diagrammatic demonstration, illustrating that such people like Haile Gebreselassie or Kennenisa Bekele have bigger upper chest cavity that is fit to accommodate lung boxes better than others. That means they can have more oxygen than others to carry them for longer distances. That is very fitting for athletics.

On the other hand, our footballers have no competitive physiology fit for football. Football requires agility in the limbs to run faster and jump higher.

Recently, a listener had posed a very relevant query on a radio show: why the national football federation does not go out deep and far into the hinterlands in search of such agile and resilient young men. Players from Southern Nations Nationalities & Peoples State are indeed showing clear progress in this respect. That, of course, does not mean banning those from central Ethiopia. But I have noted this as food for thought for researchers in the field.

Instead of giving speculative views about the exact ages of player and making noises, for example, why not make efforts to go the necessary distance and check their available certified registered dates of birth?

Journalists could attest the ages footballers by referring to official documents, such as their respective passports, and if not, from reliable sources, like respective woredas or kebeles.

They should also be able to have the data of each player’s scored goals of the premier season and records of in juries and yellow cards or red cards. And they should give chances to spectators, at random, and find out from them what their comments could be on any game any time.

Sport journalists should also find out who the role models of young players are. They should also try to make agreements with sponsors to be able to make direct transmission of the game from the spot.

The national football federation was formerly blamed for not allowing direct reporting because they thought they would be less number of thickets sold. But this is not proven right by evidence. The rest of the listeners elsewhere in the world be eagerly waiting to listen to the commentators.

Advertisers would be more than happy to acquire air time and thus, the federation would be even earning from the venture. That is how money can be earned other than ticket prices.

Reporters can give their views and comments freely but should never try to make the wrong impact in the minds of players or managers by telling unprofessional comments just because they have access to the media. I hope they would not put the blame on bad governance.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Apr 12,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 832]



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