Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Who's at fault for poor grassroots participation?

A 2001 UK Census table showed men participated in, on average, 18 minutes of physical activity a day, women about five minutes less.
The standard figure given by first-world government sports ministers around the globe is usually 30 minutes per day. But if taking part in sport or physical activity ends for many after the under-12 football finals, where is the next generation of champions going to come from?

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, had a stab at the poor sports participation rates, which leads over time to poor international sports performance, in a 2008 article for the Telegraph:

“the fault is in ourselves, and if we want to do better at sport… we should now launch a merciless Kulturkampf against every feature of modern Britain that is inimical to our competitive success. We should summon up our courage and tell our ballooning children to put down their beastly PlayStations and go and play outside. We should encourage them to walk or cycle to school. We should stop the sale of school playing fields. We should finally abandon the ethic of "all must have prizes".’

The comments section was revealing of the varying levels of support for Boris’ Kulturkampf: some commenters attacked the Mayor for even deigning to write some “trivial nonsense” when there are subjects like knife crime, racism and the loss of English values bringing today’s society to its knees; others thought he was right on the money.

The important part is: someone needs to inspire the youth to see sport as something anyone can do - not just the elite - for enjoyment, friendship and a healthy lifestyle.

There’s a reality of the value of networking from sport that predates the social networking concept by at least a hundred years. Old boys from private schools know the value well – a high school championship-winning rugby player gains the support of influential people who help him gain a sought-after graduate placement or start a business. My own experience came without the privilege attached but was still vital – on moving to an outback Australian town to start my first job after university, my love of sport and passion for writing was enough to convince a sports editor to give me a reporter’s job.

Years of playing basketball and football and watching Australian Rules football, rugby league, swimming and various other sports for enjoyment had the unexpected side-effect of making writing about sport almost second-nature. Of course, there was more to being a successful sports writer than knowing sport – you have to understand the draft process, contract payments, boardroom and changeroom politics and the detailed rules and acronyms of 101 sporting codes.

And as a sports writer, it was always inspiring to meet sporting celebrities who still maintained contact with the grassroots of their sport and wanted to see more young people getting off the couch and onto the field, court or into the pool. Aboriginal tennis player Evonne Goolagong-Cawley was one who made the trip to a small town and focused more on helping out fellow Aborigines to see the value of the sport, rather than spending time on her own self-promotion.

English sportspeople need to be serious about helping out the next generation while they still have the profile to command respect. If the London mayor can hit the target with words and occasionally back it up with dollars and action, current sport stars should do even better.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Ball players hit the headlines- but for how long?

As a follow-up to the previous story about British basketball, it is heartening to see the mainstream media being seduced into writing basketball stories on the back of English players' participation in the 2009 NBA Live game and 4 Nations tournament in London this year.

Chicago Bulls star and injury-prone Luol Deng has garnered much of the media attention, though Brit-born Ben Gordon has had the benefit of serious game time in the NBA finals series to boost his profile.

Promoters for NBA Live and 4 Nations need to work out how to steal a sports page from the Sun, Mirror and Daily Mail on a regular basis in an effort to bring basketball into the public consciousness before these major events at the O2. While they are sure to be well-attended – ticket sales for the lower priced seats seem to pick up after each story – the longer-lasting benefits may be lost unless PR and marketing teams work on the ever present problem of grassroots participation.

As mentioned in a previous post, basketball courts around the country are lying dormant or solely used, with either permanent or improved goals at each end, for football. As a local example, I practice at an outdoor court in south London at least once a week and for the first time in six months, found basketball players using it over the weekend. The weather's obviously a factor but it appears people generally aren't learning a love for the game at an early age.

On a disappointing sidenote, the one publication to regularly feature a wide range of sports ended its print run last month.
Opinions are divided on whether Sport rightly earned its title as the UK’s best sport magazine, but in my short experience it featured top-notch writing, interesting picture stories and a determination not to fill its pages solely with football stars, WAGS or poor-performing cricketers.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Social media – underestimating its use in PR is an automatic “fail”

Recent research showed that people using social media to contact friends was more popular than email, a finding that is not surprising for those watching their friends’ 10 daily Facebook updates and more regular ‘tweets’.

People get excited when a politician such as Barack Obama or celebrity like Stephen Fry are shown using and expressing their enthusiasm for new technology.

Web nerds may enjoy it because it validates their many years of dedication to the internet and social networking, through older bulletin board, ICQ and other social media outlets.

PR people have been jumping for joy over it for many reasons, including the ability to track who is saying what about their clients, build fan pages to further expose those clients and tap into the general zeitgeist of popular culture.

Now that Twitter has been recognised for that potential – it offers unrivalled access compared to Facebook as anyone can quickly and easily read anyone else’s tweets and follow them – PR companies are assigning staff specifically to handle social media profiles on their clients.

It still strikes me as odd when I read about a scandal involving a film, reality TV or sporting celebrity’s misplaced comments, photos or videos on those social networking sites. Gossip magazines and websites must also be rubbing their hands with glee at this previously untapped source of dirt. So it’s a positive forum one hand for PROs and a potential minefield, filled with poorly-chosen words and drunken photos on the other.

An example recently from Australia was a storm of controversy over a group of football players who put a bizzare sex video, involving a rubber chicken and a frozen chicken, on Youtube. Two players were forced to pay fines of AU$5000 for their involvement. Pundits even suggested the incident could have caused the team to lose its next game, such was the fallout.

*Apologies for the use of “fail” in this headline – I’m not a fan of ‘fail’ as a noun but it does lend itself to showing new uses of the internet. Some say internet speak is killing the English language, others would argue its adding new terminology to an ever-evolving dialect. Both sides have merit.