Tennis, Feminism and Andy Murray

I’ve been meaning to link to this article from Jonathan Newman’s Sport Scribe website for a while now.

 

My apologies for not getting onto it sooner, but that old beast, my short thesis has been taking up all of my time lately.

I also have a few new blog posts in the pipelines and hopefully will get them out ASAP but in the meantime he’s a great piece from another writer whose interest in sport, like mine, takes them away from the scoreline.

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Cycling and Punishment: Stuart O’Grady

Sunday night’s edition of The Bike Lane on SBS served as a reminder of the complexities that are inherent in debating just what we should do with those who do not conform to society’s rules.

At the heart of the debate surrounding Stuart O’Grady’s role as co-presenter on The Bike Lane are questions of just how do we punish former dopers and what is punishment anyway?

William Shakespeare used the parting words of the Prince in Romeo and Juliet to remind us that punishment takes many forms. All of the surviving Montagues and Capulets are punished through the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. There is no greater punishment the Prince can dole out, hence his cry “All are punish’d”.

This question of punishment is at the heart of Stuart O’Grady’s return to the cycling fold. On Sunday night we saw O’Grady’s public punishment in what was at times a difficult interview to watch, but a necessary one if O’Grady is to be held accountable for his actions.

Many athletes in their early years, if not throughout their careers, receive taxpayer money to support them as they follow their dreams, so it’s only right that they are held publicly accountable for their actions.

The host of The Bike Lane, Matthew Keenan, began the show by addressing “the elephant in the room” that is O’Grady’s doping admission. Keenan clearly laid the show’s values on the table by arguing that O’Grady can teach us much about the dangers of doping in professional sport.

The argument that sports can benefit from those who have made mistakes is a reasonable one, but it often fails to address that doping results in cheats prospering. The honest athlete may have their integrity intact but are often consigned to the realm of nobodies. Dopers get away with the prize money, the trinkets, the fame and the media career, while the honest, clean athlete fades from our memories.

However, exiling the dopers may be a pointless process, especially if the same old cycles of doping continue.

Melbourne academic Craig Fry recently argued that Stuart O’Grady’s inclusion as co-host of The Bike Lane undermines doping prevention programs. Ultimately, cheats continue to prosper is the message here. Fry has a point, but watching O’Grady highlighted that this was also about public punishment.

O’Grady was clearly uncomfortable with having to admit his dream retirement and plans of breaking the record for the most Tour de France appearances was shattered due to his own stupidity. But there were traces of defiance, too, when he brought out the old “you don’t know what I’ve been through” chestnut. Nevertheless, O’Grady did display palpable remorse, and this is what his disappointed fans wanted to see.

Regardless of where you sit on the ‘should ex-dopers be allowed back into the fray’ fence, having to justify your existence on national television is a punishment within itself.

In light of all we know about O’Grady’s doping, should he be excommunicated from the Australian sporting landscape? Will we, in some bizarre homage to Nathaniel Hawthorn, force him to wear a scarlet D for life?

O’Grady’s whole career cannot be judged on his actions in 1998, unless there is proof that he doped his whole career. Even though he may not have cheated on Lance Armstrong’s scale, like all dopers, he cheated his competitors and his fans in 1998.

O’Grady may well have lived with the fear of his secret coming out for 15 years and confessing his cheating to his family may have personally been the worst punishment for him, but being held publicly accountable for his actions is the punishment cycling fans needed and deserved.

Unless new evidence comes to light that O’Grady was a career doper, and he doped to win his Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals, his Paris-Roubaix win or any of his other achievements, there is little point in taking them off him. That would not be a fair punishment if he won them cleanly – and based on all available evidence he did.

In all of this, however, we shouldn’t forget that the real victims of doping in sport are not the repentant athletes, but the clean athletes who were cheated out of their careers, including lucrative media deals in retirement.

These are the real victims of doping in sport.

This article also appeared on The Roar

Roaring into unchartered news territory

Joseph Liebling famously said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one”.

With the inherently participatory nature of the Web 2.0, it could now be said that freedom of the press has arrived to everyone who owns a computer. However, this arrival is seen by some to be at the cost of traditional print media.

New players in the online media market not just offer new voices and new styles of presenting news and information. These new players also challenge what it means to be a news producer, by challenging not just what is produced, but who is producing it.

The Internet has opened up opportunities for new forms of communication and for new voices to be heard. Sports journalism or sports opinion is one area that has taken off in this era of participation.

What were once water cooler conversations, between colleagues arguing over the weekend’s results, have found much wider audiences through the online world.

As such, there is a plethora of sports websites on the Internet as fans and budding entrepreneurs have found an outlet for their sporting passions. One of the many sports websites out there that has taken advantage of the participatory nature of the Internet is the Australian site, The Roar. The Roar successfully mixes ‘expert’ commentary with ‘fan’ commentary. It also uses its comments section as an important tool for engaging its audience and ensuring fans return to the site.

The Roar is a website for those who want to read about sport and engage with other fans. But as far as journalism is concerned, The Roar raises a number of complex questions about the blurring of news and commentary in the online world.

In the thick of this complicated new world is The Roar’s editor Patrick Effeney. The question of if The Roar is a news website or blogging platform is not a straightforward yay or nay.

“If you want to take the cynical, corporate response to that you would call it a sports opinion site. Traditionally it has reveled in the opinion side of things and the reaction side of things more than the breaking of stories or the reporting of news in any sort of faithful, journalistically bound context”, he said.

What The Roar does well, is to fill a gap left open by traditional media. Where traditional media reports on results and what just happened, The Roar and its readership are concerned with a different set of questions.

The Roar’s readers and contributors are interested in analyzing not only who won, but how the game was won, why and where it was won as well as looking for cultural meanings behind sporting events.

The basic pyramid structure of news reporting that is the domain of traditional news outlets doesn’t feature highly on the site. And why would it? This style of writing rarely opens itself up to detailed analysis.

Also with the speed of the Internet and its ability to destroy the borders of time and space, fans can already access the most up to date results on other social media platforms. By exploiting how the Internet now brings an endless array of sports to the personal devices of sports fans, The Roar has found a niche that fills the gaps traditional media either cannot fill or has no desire to fill.

But, is this journalism?

Effeney notes, “I think it’s a specific model that works for certain sites, but I don’t think you can say that it is what journalism should be in 10 years time. I think it’s what one aspect of journalism should be.”

Citizen journalism is a term I have enormous issues with because it appears to reinforce a divide that suggests ‘trained’ journalists have been and should continue to be some kind of mythical gatekeeper of information. To me, it reeks of an attitude that consigns the vast majority to mushrooms, who only feast on the tidbits handed out by an elite group. This term is an incredibly murky one and I will deal with it in greater detail in a later post. However, Effeney does make an interesting observation about how giving greater access to previously muted voices challenges journalism.

“Citizen journalism is taking more of people’s eyeballs compared to your traditional (news)papers because people want to be involved and the Internet gives them that ability. But whether it should be the future of reportage of news or of media in general, I’m not sure”, he said.

“Is it the future of media? Probably.

Is it the future of journalism? Probably not.

I think it’s a future but I don’t think it’s the one thing that we should be holding our hats on as a pillar of the industry”, he said.

Nevertheless, The Roar provides a space for professional writers and sports fans to meet and engage with each other over their sporting passions.

Effeney succinctly sums the sports writing industry up. “That’s the bonus of sports; people love to talk about and watch and discuss sport and I don’t know that that’s going to change anytime soon.”

A sentiment I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with.

* In the interests of transparency I have been a paid contributor to The Roar.

Blogging as a new public sphere?

Many in the established media are lamenting what they see as the end of media as we know it. Although I suspect what is really being mourned is the slow demise of the not so heavily fortified structures of gatekeeping.

After all, those who work in the professional media may not necessarily be more talented at writing or at analyzing events than those outside.

The difference is, those who call themselves professional journalists do so because of their chosen career path. They do not hold some esoteric skills or gifts unavailable to others.

The reality is, there are many gifted writers and thinkers who are not professional journalists.

These people have always existed outside of professional journalism. They are not a new phenomenon or subspecies although perhaps through the advent of Web 2.0, these writers, thinkers and analysts now have the moniker of “blogger”.

As such, we live in exciting times.

These times are made exciting through the Web with its endless avenues and boulevards of new forms of communication.

With this in mind, let’s not be pessimistic about the future and dwell on what we have lost. And, yes, we have lost something with the demise of traditional newspapers, but equally, we have gained so much more.

No longer is information in the hands of a few.

As such a whole new world of who can communicate and changes in styles of communication has been born.

And that’s incredibly exciting.

Blogging is one example of communication opened up to the masses. Often, what we’ve found in the blogosphere are intelligent, witty and impassioned voices presenting the world in new terms .

A blog that I avidly read is www.crankpunk.com.

Crankpunk is a widely read and well respected blog on cycling.

It is serious and sometimes intense when it is required to be and it can be humourous and quite off the cuff at other times.

It mixes opinion with funny quirky anecdotes from life in the Asian pro-peloton as well sharing in the history of the sport and sharing entertaining aspects of life on two wheels.

Its founder is Lee Rodgers, a British expat living in Asia who reignited his passion for racing his bike in his mid-30s by turning pro.

Crankpunk is a website with a strong anti-doping stance but it’s also much more than this.

It is a passionate blog about cycling, why people cycle and it illustrates the sense of community that can come from being a cyclist or a fan of this magnificent sport.

For freelance journalist, Rodgers the blog started in between jobs. He says, “I just felt like there was so much going on in the world of cycling and I was missing being part of the communication process.

I ended up starting Crankpunk cos I just wanted to keep my hand in it. It was exactly the same time the Lance Armstrong thing broke.”

It’s hard not to speculate on the extent to which Lance Armstrong has influenced the content of Crankpunk.

Rodgers is fiercely anti-doping, a stance that I suspect exists aside from Armstrong. However, the Texan and his ‘legacy’ casts a long shadow over cycling and may well do so for a long time to come.

A key aspect to Crankpunk’s anti-doping stance is to magnify the extent to which doping cheats clean riders and robs them of their careers.

It’s hard to believe, but when you think about it, when doping is reported, there is rarely any reference to the clean athletes who have had their dreams stolen.

There’s often excuses, lies, hints of corruption and a vague sense of the disappointment of fans, but somehow the villains are cast as victims.

One aspect of Crankpunk is that it shines a light on those who choose to destroy the careers of others by doping.

Crankpunk is a reminder that sport blogs also serve an important function in seeking transparency in sports journalism.

As Rodgers notes, “Maybe when Armstrong was around, when he first started becoming really successful, maybe if the blogging sphere had of been stronger or if there were more independent people who had better access to cycling fans and had this space which we have now started to generate, maybe Armstrong wouldn’t have been able to get away with as much as he did.”

There is no way of knowing if what is widely called, “the biggest fraud in the history of sport” would have been limited by a larger blogosphere, but it’s an interesting point to think about.

“Maybe he would have had to answer questions and the groundswell of public opinion may not have been on his side”, says Rodgers.

This the raises the question, “Do blogs have the potential to produce the kind of public sphere that German philosopher Jurgen Habermas envisioned with his public sphere theory?”

One of the interesting things about Lance Armstrong and his modus operandi, was his willingness to undertake legal action against publications that questioned the authenticity of his performances.

He successfully sued The Times in 2004 after journalist, David Walsh wrote an article raising such questions and his take down of former Irish pro and now journalist, Paul Kimmage at a Tour of California press conference in 2009 is legendary.

 

Blogs have the potential to enhance concepts of the Fourth Estate and through this, it’s clear that bloggers are not the enemy of journalism.

Rather, bloggers are also communicators using a different medium to traditional news and a different writing style, but they are no less informed to pass comment.

When asked what blogging is to him, Rodgers says, “It’s contributing to the debate that’s going on whether you agree with what I say or you don’t.

The fact there are opinions on there, means it’s contributing in some way, whether it be negative or positive or in the middle.”

In terms of defining blogs and their contribution to public debate, he goes on to add, “Don’t think of yourself as a blogger”, is one thing.

I think that we need a new word for it because the people that are writing these things that we call blogs, their opinion is as valid as the people working for newspapers and magazines.”

This last point is key and one that those in the information or communication business need to embrace.

There’s plenty of room for everyone.

The Internet provides us with the space for multiple voices to be heard and for new styles of presenting alternative voices.

It’s understandable that those who are losing their tightly held monopoly on information feel threatened by new forms of communication.

But blogs and those who produce them provide informative and often starkly contrasting voices to many important debates.

These new voices with their alternative methods of communication should be embraced and not seen as inferior or lacking the authority to comment.

As such, the future of communication isn’t all doom and gloom. Rather, it may offer an avenue to a new public sphere.