Taking live sport off the table

Every event — from soccer to tennis and cricket — is coming to us filtered through television during the pandemic.

Children watching a cricket match live on television. You had to be there — this was for long the mantra of the sports fan. Things have changed gradually.   -  R. Ashok

Let me describe the ‘television chairs’ in my room. They are two separate single-seaters, aptly named lazy boy (although when my wife uses one, we call it lazy girl), which allows me to stretch my legs, and have a meal while watching sports on television. Spectator comfort — a concept alien to our stadium builders — is everything.

The debt sport owes to television is not restricted to the huge amounts of money it brings in, although much flows from this single fact. It allows us to watch the action in our shorts and little else while well-placed phones and laptops nearby occasionally inspire us to do a spot of work simultaneously. The sheer convenience of WFH-w-WFH (Working From Home while Watching From Home) is unmatched.

It's all about the little things in sport  

You had to be there. This was for long the mantra of the sports fan. Were you present at the Oval when India won a Test match there in 1971? Did you witness P. T. Usha’s run at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984? Were you at the Wembley arena when Prakash Padukone won the All-England badminton championship in 1980? Or in Australia when India won the series last year? If you were at any of these places at any of those times, you could dine out on it for years. Or at least write about it afresh for every new generation.

Many of us have indeed been to these places. And now even those as young as 18 or 20 have too, thanks to the magic of television and its rich cousin, YouTube.

Why sportswriters shouldn't succumb to myths  

The pandemic took live sport off the table for most of us. Every event — from soccer to tennis and cricket — came to us filtered through television. And we realised it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Drink, snacks and slow-motion replay is a combination hard to beat.

Reporters who rushed about from venue to venue, hidden behind curtains to catch an important conversation, or had team notes accidentally slipped under their hotel room doors, were now forced to focus on the game. Cricket, which took the specialists around the world regularly, now took them no farther than the refrigerator for a refill. For stories beyond the story, we had to rely on sportsmen breathing into their own YouTube channels. (So maybe there is a downside after all).

Philosophy has a long way to catch up with sports  

The Berlin Olympics (1936) was the world’s first live telecast of a sporting event. So, I suppose Herr Hitler deserves some gratitude even if he saw it as a vehicle to transmit his perverted ideology. This was consistent with how he saw the Olympics too. The British journalist Martin Kellner once said that most histories of sport are written by people who were there. “The story of sport,” he writes, “needs to be written by someone who stayed at home and watched…”

Sure, television distorts by choosing what to show, it corrupts by determining what constitutes success or failure, it creates monster sportspersons. But where else can one watch so much drama in one’s pyjamas?

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