‘Up to us to defend ourselves’: AIPS Congress takes aim at A.I.

Threat posed to sports media professionals by artificial intelligence is major talking point at 86th AIPS Congress; concerns also raised over access being granted to content creators; British success at AIPS Awards encouraging; the issue of online abuse of journalists raised for future discussion…

By Jon Holmes

The panel discussion on gender equality at the AIPS Centenary Congress held in Santa Susanna, Spain

Apathy and complacency from senior sports media figures worldwide would leave the profession at greater risk from the growing impact of generative A.I., says AIPS President Gianni Merlo.

Ways to utilise artificial intelligence for the benefit of those working in the industry, not against it, were explored at the 86th Congress of the International Sports Press Association held in Santa Susanna, Spain.

“Billionaires will not help us if we do not defend ourselves,” said Merlo in a panel discussion with editors from Marca, L’Equipe and Mundo Deportivo, and ‘A.I. for Good’ advocate Mariagrazia Squicciarini of UNESCO.

Another key theme at the Congress was the strong desire to have a clear differentiation between trained sports journalists and content creators.

A formal AIPS resolution has now been issued. “After 100 years of existence, our association enters its new century facing some new professional challenges,” it reads.

“Our founders clearly saw into the future. They were driven by a correct vision of the evolution of our profession and now it is up to us to respond to the new needs.”

Also on the Congress agenda was the promotion of gender equality in the industry and the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities.

The annual AIPS Sport Media Awards took centre stage on Monday night, with entries representing the UK claiming one each of gold, silver and bronze at the ceremony.

A final group photo at the AIPS Sport Media Awards

AIPS was founded in 1924, making this its Centenary Congress. The organisation has around 160 member associations, including the SJA, and more than 9,500 individual members. It is formally recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIFA, UEFA and other major sports governing bodies.

Moses tees up ‘13 Steps’

A Congress highlight was an interview with two-time Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Edwin Moses, who introduced the trailer for a forthcoming documentary about his life.

With contributions from the likes of Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson, the film ‘13 Steps’ looks not only at the American’s achievements on the track but also his standing in wider sport and Black culture.

The 68-year-old was interviewed by AIPS exec committee VP Evelyn Watta, who later chaired a panel chat largely focused on gender equality.

Vladi Lazarova, a producer from Bulgaria, shared a powerful story about sending a young female reporter to report on football hooligans, against the advice of her male colleagues who felt it would not be safe for her.

Lazarova’s decision was vindicated when the reporter delivered the story superbly.

‘We have to make A.I. help us’

Squicciarini’s contribution to the A.I. conversation was significant. She highlighted the technology’s benefits – such as for languages and translation – and stressed that it is not a “black box” but more of a blank canvas on which journalists control the outcome.

The panel discussion on A.I.

Trying to balance a sense of discovery with calls for self-preservation were Merlo, Juan Ignacio Gallardo (Marca), Santi Nolla (Mundo Deportivo) and Lionel Dangoumau (L’Equipe). 

The latter said: “A.I. is here to stay so we need regulation and we need to speed up, as it’s impossible to know where it’s taking us.” Gallardo mentioned an image of Kylian Mbappe with Florentino Perez that appeared on social media and “looked real” – but it was found to be fake.

Likening A.I. to “a newborn baby”, Squicciarini suggested AIPS should see it as an opportunity, by bringing in a certification process and clear guidelines on usage.

Later in the Congress, Merlo chaired another panel on A.I. that featured IOC vice-president Juan Antonio Samaranch and which explored the implementation of the Olympic A.I. Agenda. One aim of the technology is to eliminate “unfair judging” and therefore raise standards in a way that assists all athletes.

Honours past, present and future

Accreditation is a fundamental purpose of AIPS which has an internationally recognised press card which is only available to British journalists if they are members of the SJA. It is particularly valuable to photographers and journalists covering major events in continental Europe.

However, its Sport Media Awards are free-to-enter and offers very attractive monetary prizes and scholarships. From the UK, Suzy Wrack, Kate Rowan and Dina Asher-Smith have previously made it to the final stages of the competition – it’s still relatively new, with this year’s ceremony the sixth edition.

Representing Britain on podiums were CNN Sport’s Jack Bantock who won the Young Reporters Writing section; Dublin-based photographer Sam Barnes, runner-up in the Action category; and filmmaker Louis Myles – twice a winner in previous years – who took third place alongside Ahmed Twaij in Documentary. 

The SJA celebrated the trio’s success and communicated out their happy news to a wider audience, and there were nine more British entries on the Top 10 lists.

In future years, we hope to see even more names from the UK in contention.

In brief…

The AIPS Congress began with a video message from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who told delegates: “You are the barometer of public opinion and we greatly value your comments.” A quick Google search provides a reminder that Infantino gives very few press conferences but when he does speak to the media, such as at the most recent men’s and women’s World Cups, his bizarre comments certainly make for attention-grabbing headlines.

The Awards were live-streamed via YouTube which makes them more accessible but perhaps there is scope to raise the profile during the entry process later this year – the feeling is that many in British sports media are still unaware of the prizes on offer, for example. It would be great to have an exhibition of shortlisted photos next time.

Notable among the “Special Mentions” were: Jason Burt (Telegraph) for Outstanding Interview; Hannah Ryan (CNN) for Special Report, Visual & Data Story; Will Coldwell (FT Magazine) for Long-Form Journalism; Richard Callis (Sports Press Photo) for Old-Style Photography.

Presentations at Congress by delegates from Palestine and Ukraine were incredibly sobering. There were tributes to journalists and athletes who had lost their lives or suffered injuries in the ongoing conflicts, and others who along with their families had lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. It put concerns over A.I. into stark context.

All delegates were asked to put forward a best male athlete and a best female athlete of the last century, to mark 100 years of the AIPS. The top threes were, in order: Muhammad Ali, Pele and Usain Bolt; and Serena Williams, Nadia Comaneci, and Nawal El Moutawakel.  

Martin Mazur hosted a section on the success of the AIPS Young Reporters Programme, which has been running for over a decade and has featured 461 participants from 96 countries attending 46 events. Among the stories was that of the UK’s Zarif Rasul, who went on a YRP scheme to the UEFA European U21 Championship in 2013 where he met Marta Aparicio from Spain. Zarif is now Head of Community Management at Real Madrid – and married to Marta, who is Head of Digital Strategy for Clubs at LaLiga.

The “100 Stories by 100 Young Reporters” project for the Paris 2024 Olympics is shaping up nicely – the website was not live at the time of writing but you can see the short videos completed so far here. Among them is Nicole Apio’s for Uganda, and this article on NBS Sport explains more.

One of my observations was that the issue of online abuse of sports media professionals was not on the agenda. With platforms like X seemingly “rewarding” users who use sexism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ hate to drive engagement, this is a pressing concern and recently highlighted in new research from Italy by a firm called The Fool. I have raised this with the AIPS Europe confederation for investigation and had an encouraging response so far.

This first-time delegate and solo traveller was hugely grateful to everyone for their warm welcomes, in particular our friends from Malta (Sandro Micallef, Laura Cunningham and AIPS Europe president Charles Camenzuli); AIPS Europe committee member Aspasia Velonaki from Greece; and Stefano Carnevale Schianca from AIPS Head Office. Gracias a todos!

If you’d like to learn more about AIPS and my trip to the Congress, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a conversation on

For more from the 86th AIPS Congress, see the index of content on the AIPS website

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