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Rising above sports fandom

Wimbledon ensures that reporters conceal their loyalty towards a player
To be a Rafael Nadal fan is to be an underdog. It feels unreasonable, for Nadal is an 18-time Grand Slam champion and a serial winner. But in a universe full of Roger Federer supporters, I have often felt like a mere speck. The American writer David Foster Wallace didn’t help matters, as his famous 2006 essay, published in The New York Times , titled ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’, made it unfashionable to root for Nadal. “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read,” Mark Twain once said. Wallace’s classic was something I didn’t go anywhere near. Wimbledon 2019, though, changed certain things. Federer and Nadal were drawn to meet in the semifinals for what could potentially be their first on grass since that iconic clash in 2008. Once the draw held good, friends and family told me to feel “blessed” and “privileged” that I could watch it live. To be sure, I was. But as a reporter deputed to cover it, I had to shed the mask of a fan. In fact, 13 of the duo’s 40 meetings have come after I turned a journalist and I have had to write about many of them dispassionately. But not once before was I pressured to look the part even as the spectacle was unfolding. In a way, sports journalism, more than others, can tolerate some subjectivity but not of the kind that clouds perspective. As my previous Sports Editor, the late Nirmal Shekar, once wrote to all of us, “Sports stories are by nature subjective. They need you to editorialise. Even the smallest things, putting down a wicket to poor judgment instead of sloppy execution, for example, is a judgment call — drawn, of course, from a thorough understanding of the sport you are writing about.” To rise above sports fandom is to be accountable, shed biases and provide a fair, comprehensive account of events and act independently. On that Friday, I had to suspend the disbelief that Nadal could lose, even on Federer’s favourite surface, despite the Swiss being better on the day, disregard the queries from fellow Nadal fans — there were, of course, only three of them — as to what had come over their hero, and report on it. Wimbledon, which prizes its etiquette more than any other sporting event, thankfully had a way of settling such nerves. “No cheering or clapping from the press box please,” a security officer never tired of telling us. Appreciating a well-executed stroke, be it by any player, shouldn’t ideally cast aspersions on your professional integrity. But Wimbledon’s way of ensuring fairness is by shutting down even a modicum of applause from the media. So much so that the press was forced to watch even the rise of the irresistible 15-year-old American Cori Gauff in relative silence.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/rising-above-sports-fandom/article28567397.ece

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