Alan Hubbard

Back in the day (actually more days than I care to remember) when I first embarked on a career in journalism, getting a sports story on the front page of a newspaper was a cause for celebration because it happened so rarely.

Then sport knew its place, which was at the back end of the public prints. Or the tail end of a TV or radio news bulletin.

But that was before most of the games we play became enveloped by rampant commercialism and we humble sportswriters needed to take crash courses in geopolitics, medicine, fashion, finance and the law. A degree in computer science also helps. 

Now, over the years we have witnessed sport not only becoming a law unto itself but larger-than-life and infected by some of the irredeemable ills which scar that life, such as riots and racism.

Here's a current example of what some editors of my acquaintance used to call the toy department which have been elevated to the front pages. Currently the apparently unjabbed Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s five setter with the Australian Government over his participation in the Australian Open has jostled, certainly in the British media, for prominence with a bewitched, bothered and beleaguered Boris Johnson.

Barely a day passes without one sporting celeb or another hitting the page one headlines, mainly for behaving badly. Indeed, I hardly raised an eyebrow when this morning I picked up my Daily Mail to read that an England rugby player had been arrested on a rape charge and that a Manchester City footballer was on bail for a similar alleged offence. Par for the course, I sniffed. 

The prime credentials for being a sports journo are no longer a passable acquaintance with the offside rule or being able to distinguish a left hook from a meat hook.

Instead most of us have had to acquire a working knowledge of all aspects of life and society.

Which may be why these days there are several examples of newspaper editors and TV correspondents who began earning a crust and gathering experience by covering sport. Examples of this include Simon Kelner, whom I recall working alongside when he was a trainee sports sub on the Observer and subsequently became editor of The Independent.

The controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic's participation at the Australian Open tennis is the latest example of sport crossing into news pages and on to news channels ©Getty Images
The controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic's participation at the Australian Open tennis is the latest example of sport crossing into news pages and on to news channels ©Getty Images

Simon’s niece, Martha Kelner, originally an award-winning sports writer principally on athletics, with the Mail, has progressed from being sports correspondent with Sky to the channel's US correspondent, her most recent assignment being the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. 

Her colleague Paul Kelso, with whom I spent many hours in sporting press boxes, including at various Olympics, is now Sky’s business correspondent.

And Adam Parsons, their European correspondent, was also weaned on sport, and for a time headed the British Olympic Association’s media department.

Neither should we forget that the journalist who provided the most to graphic BBC coverage of the Black September terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics of 1972 was their late sports commentator David Coleman.

He was among the first of many sports journalists who were required to turn their hands to reporting for the news pages as sports events and personalities became involved in dramas which went beyond the playing field.

Sport’s expansion into new territories has coincided with not just the infusion of mega-money but the desire for success at any cost. Hence the unabated scourge of drugs and corruption at the highest level.

While, as a journalist, I understand the need to stretch my brief and report sport with all its incumbent iniquities and controversies, I admit yearning for the "good old days" when sport was relatively pure and simple, untainted by greed, pill popping and a ruthless quest for glory.

Such was the refreshing situation at Tokyo 1964, the first Olympics I covered. It was not merely an unforeseen, pernicious pandemic which made those which followed in Japan 57 years later worryingly hazardous but the more avoidable ills which subsequently beset sport. A Games-changer indeed.