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Saturday, October 20, 2007

RWC 2007 Analysis continued: The commentary issue - a pet hate of mine

In our most recent post, we discussed the Rugby World Cup final, won 15-6 by South Africa. South Africa dominated the set pieces, particularly the lineout, and defended brilliantly to see out a tight match and claim a well-deserved victory.

A goal for the next four years - retain the title, and find some commentary quality

We've already done the post-match analysis, and besides, rugby is not our "core business" here on the Science of Sports, we prefer running and cycling! So we'll leave well enough alone and allow the rugby writers and former players to weigh in on this post match dissection. But one thing that I had to write about, because it's a pet hate of mine, is the quality of the South African commentary that we are subjected here in South Africa. We have a channel called Supersport, who get the most exceptional coverage of world sport. But their commentators are, in my opinion, letting the brand down.

It's long been an irritation of mine, and I really do feel it is a telling indictment on South African sport. Yet it is not unique to rugby, I recall once listening to TV coverage of the Boston Marathon, with a pair of South African experts telling the nation that "these men are fast" for about 2 hours and 10 minutes. It was embarassing to be reminded how fast the winners were running, while breaks were going off the front, pre-race favourites were being dropped, but all we needed to know was that the men were fast.

And here at the Science of Sports, we're focused mainly on science and performance analysis. But one of us (Ross) is also involved in the sports business and management industry, working in sports sponsorship and event creation, and so the management, commercialization and media coverage of sport is another key area, close to our interests. And commentary is one such area.

Rugby commentary - professionalism 101

Tonight's game saw (or heard, as the case is) a pair of SA commentators in Hugh Bladen and Garth Wright at the stadium. We needn't have had a referee because Garth Wright in particular dedicated himself to refereeing the match from the commentary box. And remarkably, it was only England who seemed to commit offences. Every tackle, every breakdown, England should have been penalised. If it had been believable, there'd have been 6 yellow cards all to England. Wright took great pleasure in informing us that the crowd could jeer all they wanted, because "from the pictures I'm looking at, there's only one decision here".

Now, for our readers in the rest of the world, one thing you must realise is that when it comes to rugby, the South African male is never incorrect. This is probably a ubiquitous feature of world sport, though, and the same probably goes for England, Australia, New Zealand, any country. A Dallas Cowboys fan is probably the same. And that's fine, because sport is meant to create passion and excitement, and of course a fan will feel that referee is biased, the opposition is cheating and his team can do no wrong.

Lack of professionalism

The problem is that these people should not be in the commentary box. And if they are, then they should at the very least have the professionalism to restrain themselves from screaming out "Go Bakkies you biscuit!", and "Frans Steyn, what a boytjie!" when the team scores points or performs well. To hear Hugh Bladen break into song at every turnover, with Garth Wright sniping around the fringes with his unwavering refereeing decisions is not professional, it's disgraceful.

Now, Hugh Bladen and Garth Wright are South African fixtures, icons of our rugby fraternity (a word I use deliberately). So I'm sure many will disagree with my perception. Unfortunately, that the general public enjoy this commentary does not add to the global perception of South Africans. I once questioned Supersport about their running commentators and was informed that most of the public quite enjoyed the 'expertise'. That is to say, they found it stimulating to be told over and over that "these men are fast", while the real race was developing in silence on the TV screen.

But we are fortunate enough in South Africa to receive a weekly rugby discussion show from Australia and New Zealand. And frankly, the difference between the level of insight provided by the Australian and Kiwi rugby experts and our own is embarassing. So too, I often catch the last hour of the NFL Monday Night Football coverage on ESPN, and the level of coverage provided by the USA commentators is remarkable - professional and polished.

So let's take this world title, and use our players as the inspiration to spend the next four years unearthing commentators who are professional ambassadors we can be proud of, as our rugby team have proved to be.



Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments about overbearing and uninformed commentary. I have only recently subscribed to your blog so you may have discussed it already, but the most irritating comments are from athletics and marathon running when British and local commentators (amongst others) prattle on about 'lactic acid in the legs' and 'it's hot - so they must drink more' (heard ad nauseam from London 2007). Don't you think some basic training in sports science should be mandatory before letting individuals enagage neutral and open mouth on TV?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ricky, and thanks for visiting us here at the Science of Sport.

Some basic training in sports science would be excellent, but some basic training in television would be even better.

The producers should at least provide them with the basics of how to be a broadcaster.

Here's hoping that they take our advice!

Kind Regards,