Sometimes, you suspect, TV sports interviewers probably quite welcome it when a sports figure – be it football managers, coaches, even athletes – with a reputation for being a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad, doesn’t turn up for the post-event interview. And if their team has just endured an embarrassing defeat, well so much the better…
Certainly, that may be the case in future for Martin Gillingham if he ever happens to cover a match where Brendan Venter has a role.
Ten days ago, pressed into service by Sky for the European rugby match which saw Saracens beaten by Racing Metro, Gillingham had the dubious pleasure of assuming a key role in something which has since become a bit of a YouTube hit.
Turning up for the interview, Venter, Saracens’ soon-to-be-departing coach, proceeded to spend the next few minutes dead-batting any questions, however predictable (“You must be disappointed with that?”), by effectively mumbling the question back to the questioner.
The Guardian‘s Robert Kitson described Venter’s conduct as, “This is what happens when an intelligent man tries to be a bit too clever and attempts to expose the stupidity of others without realising he is actually making an idiot of himself.”
What is striking as you watch the interview is the measured and controlled way that interviewer Gillingham conducts himself in the face of Venter’s toe-curling unco-operativeness.
Gillingham, after a decade of working in South Africa, where he was once hired by Saracens chief Edward Griffiths when he was sports editor of the Johannesburg Sunday Times, strongly denies any suggestion that this was in any way a put-up job.
More likely as a cause of Venter’s prickliness is that the last time he opted to answer questions with some directness, the organisers of European club rugby lumped a massive punishment on him and his club.
“Bringing the game into disrepute” or “misconduct”, whatever the Blazerati like to call it: here was just another example of how sports officials can work counter to the interests of journalists, and honesty.
Venter clearly felt that his approach to his latest interview was a reasonable response, given what happened the last time he answered a journalist’s questions with refreshing frankness.
As Kitson wrote: “Sporting bodies should encourage players and officials to examine what goes on in France or the USA, where the value of proactive media coverage seems to be better understood… The more information and access they offer the media – some Premiership clubs seem to think it has been a perfect week if they can maintain almost total radio silence – the more accurate the reporting will become and, by extension, the better supporters will be served.”
Could any SJA member disagree with that view?
The SJA wonders what its experienced members might advise for handling such awkward interviewees? Post your comments and advice below.