Editor's Letter


Reinventing the tube

Keeping up with the Times

J-blogging the best of both worlds?

'n Kykie na die veranderende eenoog-koning

MXit worth its moola

Techno impaired

Mobile media: A threat?


Solo journalism

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Beautiful journalism

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Can u sms it 2 me?

Do you get your news?

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The artist formerly known as the audience


Rebuilding the Chinese wall

Politici en hul waghonde


Burning issue: A changing climate, a changing media

Van toeka tot nou: Die 50/50 suksesverhaal


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Gevra: 'n drukmedia Harry Potter

Fluit-fluit is die storie uit vir boeke en boekresensies?


Wat sport van vol is, loop die pen van oor

Keeping the game alive...with "sportainment"



Keeping the game alive...with "sportainment"

The Television Match Official in rugby, the third umpire in cricket, the instant replay challenge system in tennis, television, radio and internet coverage of all big matches…the relationship between sport and media technology has developed dramatically in the last few years. Sport has become a professional business. Have these advances changed the way sport is played in any way?
Philippa Francis takes a look at three professional sports; rugby, cricket and tennis to find out more…

A sportsman or woman is equal to an entertainer. Sport is equal to entertainment. This is what David Emslie, Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Province Cricket, thinks and he calls it “sportainment”. He says the professional sportsmen and women of today are entertainers and they simply have to get used to it.

“It is part of a sportsman’s duty to entertain. There are parts of sport these days that are not necessarily good and that is just the way it is. If you want to be an entertainer, you have to fight for your place,” he says.

Most people think technological developments in sport are a good thing, but sometimes for different reasons. Emslie is excited about the new developments happening in cricket circles.

“Technological innovations have brought enormous advantages to the sport. The television audience has saved the life of cricket because it created money in the game.

“The TV industry made cricketers well-known and the players are now public property because the game is brought right into the homes of spectators,” he says.

Broadcast developments in sport mean that there are other media, besides newspapers, to get the message across to the public immediately at an affordable rate, unlike in the old days.

“My main goal is to keep the game alive while keeping the spectators and players happy. We rely heavily on the media from a business perspective as it is a viable communication tool. It is important for sponsors as they are generally guaranteed a good return from broadcast advertising,” Emslie says.

“The technical innovations including the third umpire* definitely enhance the spectator experience but the authorities will have to be careful to keep the good old umpire relevant.”

He also says that coverage of the games has killed cricket as a live spectator sport.

“More people tend to watch the match on television instead of coming to the grounds. This is why the Twenty20 format* is so popular because it is exciting and draws spectators to the live game,” he says.

Marais Erasmus, an International Panel Umpire, is experienced on and off the field as umpire and third umpire respectively in international matches. He agrees that Twenty20 has made cricket more of a spectator sport with the action-plus-extras approach.

“Twenty20 is more ‘sportainment’ than the gentleman’s game ever was. The competition with other sports for television time has necessitated it,” he says.

He says that cricket is to go even further by introducing a challenge system very similar to that in professional tennis tournaments. He admits that the technological advances do put pressure on the umpires to make the correct decisions all the time.

“There is pressure but it also shows who the better umpires are and with the new challenge system, decision-making will be made a lot easier,” he says.

Erasmus says that luck still plays a big role in cricket.

“Maybe luck with decisions going your way may be gone, but in the game itself, luck is still alive with dropped catches and so on.”

As with everything else, progression is necessary. Emslie says that as equipment becomes more high-tech, sport has to evolve along with it.

In rugby, the Television Match Official (TMO)* has enhanced the game because it has given a new dimension to the spectators who can become more involved in match play.

Shaun Veldsman became a TMO in 2006 after he seriously injured his knee while refereeing a rugby match. He wanted to stay as involved as he could and suggested to the authorities that they use him as a TMO.

“As a referee, and especially as a TMO, there is pressure all the time. Referees are allowed to make mistakes on the field.

“When a TMO makes a decision, it is scrutinised by the players, coaches, live spectators and home viewers. We are expected not to make mistakes because we have technology and a little time at our disposal.

“And I agree, TMOs should not make mistakes. We should get it right every time,” Veldsman says.
He also thinks that the introduction of technology and the media into the sporting world is great news.

“Nowadays, there is so much at stake in professional sport with money and sponsors that we do not want any decision to negatively influence the outcome of the game,” he says.

He does agree with Marais Erasmus that luck and chance is still there in any game or sport with a catch that is dropped or the awkward bounce of a rugby ball. Not much has changed according to Veldsman except for the fact that sports broadcasters now control the rugby schedule.

“It has affected the game of rugby because we have to play according to broadcast times. The television and radio stations determine the times and we just have to follow,” he says.

Yvonne Vermaak, a former Springbok tennis player, cannot believe how much the sport has changed since she played professionally.

“In my day, tennis players socialised together, today they definitely do not. It is a much more powerful game with the technology of racquets, balls and takkies. People work out more and it is also about making a living,” she says.

Vermaak played in the days of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in the late 70s and 80s. One of her greatest achievements is playing the Wimbledon semi-finals against tennis legend Martina Navratilova in 1983.

“The atmosphere was special, the stadium was full. Tennis was already an entertainment sport in those days. Just look where it is today. I was very nervous to be in front of all those people but it only made me enjoy the moment more,” she says.

Vermaak played at Wimbledon for 25 years, 12 years in the open age group and another 13 in the veterans section. She has played in stadiums all over the world. She says she would have liked to play when the instant replay challenge system* came out.

“I would have loved it to be around when I was playing to see the benefits first hand. At first I did not think it was a good thing and just a gimmick for the crowds. But now one can see the players do not get as angry and it cuts out a lot of the arguments with officials.

“I do not think it has changed tennis at all, it has just eased the tension between players and officials. I think it has done the same in cricket and rugby,” Vermaak says.

The International Cricket Council has recently introduced a challenge system (very similar to that of tennis) which allows challenges of on-field umpires’ decisions. The television referral system was given a trial run during the India/Sri Lanka series.

Jonty Rhodes, a former Protea player, told the Cape Times he thinks the TV referral system is a “step in a positive direction”.

“I watched a lot of the Wimbledon and the French Open tournaments, where I saw it being used quite effectively,” Rhodes told the Cape Times.

According to David Emslie, sport has evolved naturally into what it is today. This evolution has evened things out, the better players win, luck is ruled out of the game and it is entertaining. But he says technology has definitely benefited the fairness of the game of cricket as well as rugby and tennis.

As Yvonne Vermaak says, she does not like unfair decisions. Not many people do.
“I think players prefer it to be fair. All sports players are for fair play. Well, I hope they are?” she says.

Now media technology will have the final say.