Hayward inspired by sport in his battle with cancer

The SJA is delighted by the news from one of our most garlanded members, past Sportswriter of the Year Paul Hayward, that he has come through six months of cancer treatment and is once again filling the pages of the Telegraph with his insightful reports.

Paul Hayward: back at work and back in form

Colleagues at the Telegraph‘s Victoria offices, in the SJA and in the wider sports media community had known about Hayward’s illness for some time, and had sent personal good wishes to him during his treatment, but also respected his privacy as he dealt with the challenges it has presented.

Yesterday, the Telegraph‘s chief sports writer went public with the news of his illness, when he wrote a typically thoughtful and moving article for the paper.

Hayward had been at Twickenham on Saturday for the Rugby World Cup final, the end of a tournament which he had used as a personal target of being well enough to take his place in the press box for its opening fixture.

“The light on the horizon of covering a home World Cup had helped me through six weeks of cancer treatment,” Hayward wrote.

“Sport is my living, and a passion, too. But I understand it better now, nearly 30 years into the job. Much of the best sports writing is about the life stories that underpin the winning and losing. ‘Adversity overcome’ is a default mode for reporting and broadcasting. A corollary is that sport can help people in the most profound ways, on the field and up in the stands. It can help make sense of life and connect people in difficulty to a world they have fallen out of and to which they fear they may never return.”

In a 1,000-worder of unusually personal frankness – “This is not the sort of piece I would usually be inclined to write. The charge of self-indulgence is not one I would want to lumber myself with” – Hayward explained how in April and May, he had endured a ferocious course of treatment involving 30 doses of radiotherapy and six of chemotherapy for a type of head and neck cancer.

Through his treatment, Hayward turned back to sport, “to make sense of the world”.

During a spring and summer when he was more a spectator than a reporter of sport, Hayward took joy and inspiration from the brilliance – “the sharpest ray of light” – of some of the world’s finest athletes: “Barcelona v Bayern Munich at Camp Nou, in May. On the screen in a room short on cheer, Lionel Messi collected a pass on his left foot, turned inside then out in an impossibly narrow channel and sent Jerome Boateng, the Bayern defender, falling sideways like a felled tree. Out came Manuel Neuer, the world’s best goalkeeper, to quash the threat with a giant, raised arm. And Messi chipped him. Chipped one of the biggest and most intimidating men in football…

“The camera panned round the crowd to capture the sense of wonder. A man in an Argentina shirt and Barcelona scarf was having a religious experience. On the commentary, Martin Tyler said: ‘Only football can make you feel like this.’ I felt myself rise from my chair, and illness fell away.”

It’s good to have you back, Paul.

David Walker, the SJA’s Chairman, said: “Paul is indisputably one of the great writers of our age. What a brilliant, moving piece he delivered in the Daily Telegraph.

“I’m sure he is an inspiration to many people, those suffering from chronic illnesses and others, too. On behalf of his old press box comrades, and members of the SJA, I’d like to wish him a continued and full recovery.”

In the article, Hayward continued to essay how, at the end of the Rugby World Cup another sporting genius, Dan Carter, had produced another piece of sublime skill, that dropped goal which turned the game, and which had provided him with an equally illuminating moment.

“Carter had missed the 2011 final through injury, but stuck around, persevered, kept aiming ahead. His man of the match performance in the final endorsed a thought I have carried round all year: that sport is one of the very best vehicles we have for optimism, for hope.”

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Tue Dec 1: Young sports journalists’ networking drinks – Details to be announced

Thu Dec 17: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery


Mon Feb 22: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards dinner, sponsored by BT Sport