The romanticism of the sportswriter

Just as sportsmen and women sometimes feel the need to tell themselves that what they are doing is worthwhile, important and not a whit behind what doctors and St. Bernard dogs do, sportswriters too sometimes feel that way.

I sometimes wrote about Indian footballers as if they were a bunch of Peles.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

In the early 1980s, when I reported on Indian soccer domestically and at the international level, there were occasions when my descriptions of events sometimes exaggerated their brilliance. I remember writing of an Indian player that he scored a goal while “continuing to rise to head the ball even as the defenders had completed their jumps and were on the way down.” My excuse: I was young, keen to impress and hoping that Indian football too would continue to rise even as other countries were on their way down.

I sometimes wrote about Indian footballers as if they were a bunch of Peles and Beckenbauers and Johan Cruyffs. At that age, I also probably needed to reassure myself that I had chosen the right profession — why would I bother to report the antics of a bunch of players if they were no-hopers? Sportsmen were heroes, and sportswriters were complicit in building legends rather than exposing them. That remains the case to a large extent. You only have to read the reams written about the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, for instance.

“Every sport, it seemed at least to us reporting it,” wrote the novelist Paul Gallico in Farewell to Sport, “had the greatest champion of all time at the head of it and at the same time the greatest competition to make him and keep him champion.”

Just as sportsmen and women sometimes feel the need to tell themselves — and, by extension, those around — that what they are doing is worthwhile, important and not a whit behind what doctors and St. Bernard dogs do, sportswriters too sometimes feel that way. Especially when starting out. No one likes to be told that the path he has chosen is inconsequential.

“Sports writing is easy,” an American columnist once said. “You just sit in front of a typewriter until little drops of blood run down your forehead.” I believed that when I began, possibly because I wanted to. Creative agony, the torture of creation are concepts that appeal to any youngster. It is not just the performers we romanticise.

“(Sport) was,” to quote Gallico, “a wonderful, chaotic universe of clashing colours, temperaments, and emotions, of brave deeds performed sometimes against odds, mixed with mean and shameful acts of pure skullduggery, and greed, and moments of sheer sweet courage and magnificence when the flame of the human spirit and the will to triumph burned so brightly that it choked your throat, and moments too of such villainy and malice that you felt hot and ashamed even to find yourself reporting it.”

If sportsmen lack imagination and style, sportswriters are happy to provide them with these. Sometimes immortality is a string of made-up stories.