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We live in a world where media is omnipresent, while sport continues to capture the imagination of the masses. Twenty years ago, sports fans were more or less dependent on a copy of their local newspaper for the latest updates on their favourite sports teams.

With the advent of the internet, the last decade has seen an explosion in sports news, analysis and chatter, with dedicated fans continuing to devour as much as they can get. Meanwhile, the “sport industry” has had a growing impact on the global economy over the last 20 years with investment in public infrastructure, mobilising resources and creating new professions and jobs.

Emanuel Fantaneanu, AIPS Executive Committee Member, gives his insight on the subject. This article is brought to you through a partnership between Corporate Dispatch and AIPS.

“A symbiosis has developed between sports and the mass media. Sports are used to promote newspaper sales, to sell advertising space, and to win lucrative contracts for television and radio. In turn, the media help to sell spectator sports and attendant sports related consumer products to the public.” (Jay J. Coakley, Sport in Society).

Today sport movement is one of the professional sectors with the most economic momentum, creating opportunities for many people who aspire to a future in the world of sports. In this way, IOC, International Federations, Continental Federations, National Federations and many sports clubs create and have “media entities”, have strong media departments that produce various press materials (interviews, photographs, films, video, Internet platforms etc.), and make them available for sale to the press. And very importantly, having to face the “media industry” with an impressive business, most sports entities began to impose their own media rules, even if they are exaggerated, and to sell their “products” at prices increasingly higher.

Of course, all these become heavy obstacles that block much of the media to inform the public and open the way to the monopoly of large companies. Over the last few years, sports journalists and photographers have been facing difficulties in trying to do their job. Imposition of expensive (radio) rights, excessive fees for facilities, preferential treatment for club photographers…

All these factors threaten independent and professional journalism.Unfortunately, in chasing profits, the rules are not complied with, the frontier between sports business and media businesses is very fragile. Owners of media companies are at the same time as owners of clubs, or players, seeing this deal as a source of profit. For the same reason, the situation can be seen also in reverse; owners of sports clubs have media companies. Question: can we talk about independent journalists in such cases?

In this “business game” big media companies are involved. Media companies, being producers of sports program, have in turn acquired controlling stakes in sports organizations, being the providers of content. “Therefore, the increasing convergence between sports organizations and media conglomerates is driving the sports/media complex to a new dimension, allowing media companies to have exclusive access and closer control of broadcasting and merchandising rights.” (Wetfeet – Industry Overview: Entertainment and Sports).

Furthermore, many media companies have intervened in the sports industry by buying clubs, players or exclusivity. There is also the other side, the sports entities have self-media companies or have control of different media companies (special TV or online) in order to ensure visibility and sponsors. This trend which is often referred to as the ‘‘vertical integration strategy in sport’’ or ‘‘Murdochisation’’, can be defined as a process by which corporations primarily involved in mass media or communications appropriate and integrate into their own organizations sport clubs. In doing so, the media groups gain access to and control of the competitive activities of the clubs, which they can distribute through their network… The key driver of this vertical integration trend is to secure access to sports broadcasting rights…

On the media market is now a new player, which tends increasingly to replace classical media: social media. Social media is becoming an integral part of life online as social websites and applications proliferate. Mobile technologies and social media are transforming sports and sports businesses. Now, most of traditional media include social online components, such as comment fields for users.

An important factor influencing the activities in media and in sports is related to political interference in both areas. The coexistence of sport and politics dates from the 9th century BC, when the institution of the truce, or “Ekecheiria”, was established in Ancient Greece by the signing of an “international” treaty by three kings: Iphitos of Elis, Cleosthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta. “Sport and politics remain uneasy bedfellows…. Sport and politics simply cannot escape each other. They remain as interlinked as the Olympic rings themselves…” said Dan Roan – BBC sports editor.

The last example from many in the last short period: one of the most poignant scenes at the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was a show of unity as North and South Korean athletes enter the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium side by side, under a common flag; North and South Korea refused to compete against each other at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Halmstad (Sweden), with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) allowing them to form a unified team midway through the competition; Tunisia to be barred from bidding for 2022 Youth Olympics until Israeli athletes are welcome, or Jerusalem will host the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia, the first Grand Tour of the season 2018! Sport is a powerful and important political force.

“Despite this, even today, some still claim that you should not mix sport and politics. How naive! Once you have a government, there will be policy, and this policy will cover sport just as much as education, health and youth. What is more, almost all governments today have within their cabinets a minister responsible for sport, some of whom are among us today… After his election in 1980 and the successive Olympic boycotts on political grounds, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, also realized the need to establish working relations with governments, the United Nations system (UN), the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth and other intergovernmental organizations. It is thanks to the pursuit of this policy, which promotes dialogue and cooperation…” (Fékrou Kidane)

Media freedom and pluralism are at the heart of any democracy. They embrace editorial independence, the free flow of ideas, and public access to a wide range of information sources and views. Media independence and transparency are indispensable preconditions and essential safeguards of well-functioning democracy. Challenges and opportunities for the media sector differ from country to country, but all national, continental and international lawmakers have a duty to protect and preserve media freedom and pluralism. Most of the time and in most countries, this interference can have bad consequences on freedom of expression and protection of journalists and may adversely affect the business media.

Sports journalism is not protected by this interference and is often adversely affected. The interests of politicians and governments of various countries across the border often cause damage to the media and sport. Sport and politics remain uneasy bedfellows. Sport now imposes its own logic, which is not necessarily that of governments. It is more than a mere instrument: it is becoming an end in itself, with its own values and progressive aspects. We must continue to work untiringly so that peace may reign in the world and our time be better and peaceful for present and future generations.

In a tense actual political context, this sports press is caught in this vortex. In this context, to fight for press right AIPS reaction always was always prompt. “AIPS will never accept the principle that politics can limit the freedom of expression and free initiative in the field of information in any part of the world. As has been emphasized, the sports media cannot be subjected to any condition by any authority who wants to control it. The public is the main judge of sports media, and those dedicating their profession hold their work to the highest of ethical principles. In this delicate moment for journalism and sports journalism alike, it is necessary to defend our rights…”