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David Welch, sports editor and SJA member, has died

The Sports Journalists’ Association today led the tributes to David Welch, the former sports editor of the Daily Telegraph and a stalwart of the SJA committee for nearly a decade, who has died following illness. He was 63.

David Welch, right, presenting the 2005 SJA Team of the Year trophy to Sebastian Coe, as head of London's winning Olympic bid - a cause Welch had championed in the pages of the Daily Telegraph

Over the course of the past couple of years, David had kept his cancer a secret from even those closest to him until, earlier this month, he became so ill that he had to be admitted to hospital. For many of the committee, they had last seen David at a meeting just a couple of months ago, when he stood down from the awards sub-committee which he had chaired with such vigour and success since 2002. Typically, he had given no indication that he was unwell.

Sir Michael Parkinson, the SJA President and one of the star names who Welch recruited to write for the sports pages of the Telegraph, had this to say of his former boss:

“David Welch had a great effect on my career as a sports journalist.  He was an inspirational sports editor and loved sport. He had a sense of humour and viewed sport for what it was – an entertainment and a pastime.

“He loved writers and the company of writers and they responded by working better for him than they would do for most editors, mainly because they felt comfortable with his requirements and happy in his company and his ambitions.

“I am grateful I knew him and, all else apart, he has a particular place in the history of sports journalism because it was his idea to have a sports supplement contained within the main paper.  It was such a good idea everyone copied it.”

Indeed, the sports supplements we all take for granted with most of our daily papers today were a groundbreaking innovation in 1990 when, within a year of taking over the sports department at the Telegraph, Welch’s idea of a standalone sports section was given its chance.

His former employers will tomorrow be publishing a four-page tribute, something thought to be unique for the passing of a sports journalist.

Tony Gallagher, the present Editor of the Daily Telegraph, said: “We all owe David a huge debt for the way he established the Telegraph as the pre-eminent sports newspaper. He was a true revolutionary and the fruits of his work are still evident today, in our newspaper and in those of our competitors. He changed the game and he will be much missed. Our thoughts go out to his family.”

David was born in Sussex in 1948. After a degree at Loughborough, he began his journalism career on the Leicester Mercury as a racing columnist, his passion for that sport staying with him throughout his life. After rising to the regional paper’s sports editorship, David joined the Telegraph sports desk in a senior position in 1984.

Possibly one of the most significant achievements during Welch’s time as sports editor came towards the end of his 15 years in that job, with the Telegraph‘s support for London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics, something which in 2005 saw him receive the SJA’s highest honour, the Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism.

David Welch (centre) performs the formal introductions between the Princess Royal and the SJA President, Sir Michael Parkinson, at the Association's Diamond Jubilee Sports Awards in 2009

David arrived on the SJA committee in 2002, under the chairmanship of Peter Wilson. Aware of Welch’s criticism of the Association’s award events as being nothing much more than “a few people gathered together in a bar”, Wilson handed David the responsibility for running an events sub-committee. David oversaw the revival of the SJA Awards events to the stage where nearly 400 journalists and sports figures were present at the Brewery last March for a gala ceremony that properly celebrates and promotes the business of sports journalism.

After leaving the Telegraph in 2004, David established David Welch Management, acting as an agent for sports writers including Martin Johnson, Jim White, James Lawton and Mihir Bose, organising book deals for the likes of Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Scholes, running PR for national governing bodies including hockey and volleyball, and even becoming involved in sports management through the likes of Ellen Whittaker and Lisa Dobriskey.

Today, Sebastian Coe, who was another of the stars who Welch signed up to write a regular column in the Telegraph long before he took on the role of managing London’s Olympic bid, paid this tribute:

“David was one of Britain’s most visionary and effective newspaper sports editors, and crucially he understood the value in his pages of observations from past and current competitors.

“David, above all other editors at the time of London’s bid to host the 2012 Games, understood the real potential to promote sport at elite and grass-roots level. I will forever be grateful for the leading role he took in promoting that cause to the many agnostics at the time.”

David leaves two daughters and a son.

The officers and committee of the SJA send their deepest condolences to David’s family and friends on the loss of such a staunch supporter. We hope to publish details of any funeral or memorial arrangements in due course.

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