A gala night for sports journalism saw prizes split between what was once called “broadsheets” and the tabloids. And for once, some of the winners were actually lost for words.
Report: IAN COLE. Awards pictures: STEVE ROWE
Will the real Mazher Mahmood please stand up? That was the call as the News of the World was announced the winner of the SJA’s Sports Scoop of the Year award.
There was no doubt about the decision, the paper’s revelations last summer about a spot-fixing scandal at the very top level of international cricket, but when Donald Trelford opened the envelope and called up Mahmood there was a mixture of joy and amusement on the News of the World table.
After a few moments of shuffling in his seat, sports editor Paul McCarthy finally took the stage. It is not uncommon for bosses to collect awards on behalf of writers or photographers who are away on assignments. So we assumed Mahmood – aka “the fake sheikh” – must be at the cricket World Cup.
Except that McCarthy added to the intrigue by revealing that he had only ever met his award-winning reporter twice. “It’s great to work with him, a fantastic news reporter,” said McCarthy, to stifled sniggers from his colleagues at the table, journalists familiar with the manner in which the reporter known as “the Fake Sheikh” is as notorious as the Oscar-winning artist Banksy for avoiding public appearances.
No doubt about the impact of the story, though. The judges said this was the one big story dominating the second half of 2010 and still reverberating well into 2011. “This story dominated front pages, back pages, TV and radio for days.” Our winner, they said, “showed commendable enterprising journalism to nail the story. No one else was remotely in the same league.”
But could we nail Mazher Mahmood? Not on this night, certainly.
On a dazzling night when nearly 400 diners celebrated the very best in sports writing, photography and broadcasting, there were many grateful recipients accepting awards and thanking the usual suspects – sports editors, sub-editors, backroom teams, the guy who first believed in me and gave me a chance…
But one winner stood out – for his silence. Eddie Keogh, of Reuters, whose snap of Frank Lampard’s shot bouncing several feet beyond the German goal line at last summer’s World Cup took the Sport News Picture award, chose to follow Sir Alex Ferguson in refusing to speak to the Press – unless, he whispered to masterful master of ceremonies Jim Rosenthal, we took a bottle of red wine to his table! Different.
The award for the “best unprepared speech”, according to the excellent Rosenthal, went to Broadcaster of the Year Jonathan Overend, of BBC 5Live. Overend’s task throughout the previous weekend had been to persuade us that Britain’s Davis Cup Euro-Africa group match in Bolton was an important event.
That might seem worthy of an award in itself, though Overend – “bewildered, staggered, honoured” – to top the poll of SJA members, said his choice would have been BBC television’s Formula 1 presenter Jake Humphrey, who finished third, behind TalkSport’s Mark Saggers.
A standing ovation greeted Patrick Eagar as he came up to collect the Doug Gardner Award, the honour bestowed each year by the SJA officers on a member for “services to sports journalism and the SJA”.
SJA chairman Barry Newcombe said that Eagar, doyen of cricket writers around the world, had produced 13 books, covered a half-century of overseas tours and a triple century of Test matches. As Eagar himself recalled: “It is all of 40 years ago that I went up to this very important person in an office and asked timidly if he would like to see some photographs I had taken.”
Eagar capped what was a strong cricket theme about the 2010 awards. Former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding collected TV Programme of the Year on behalf of his BSkyB Cricket colleagues and BBC’s Test Match Special won Radio Programme of the Year.
The night was significant as being the last, after eight years’ generous backing, of sponsorship by UK Sport of the SJA. Yet it also saw important new beginnings, with the category of Sports Newspaper of the Year introduced, won by The Times, several judges commenting on the brilliant cricket writing from Michael Atherton and Gideon Haigh.
Even the Sports Betting Writer award, sponsored for the first time by Victor Chandler, had a cricket flavour to it. The winner, freelance Ed Hawkins, impressed the judges “writing in an entertaining way to make sports betting come alive – even to non-punters.”
Hawkins’ winning entry included a dissection of the cricket spot-fixing scandal and the writer made a point of thanking the three disgraced Pakistan cricketers – Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – “without whom I couldn’t have won”.
UPCOMING SJA DATES
Thu Mar 31: Tour of London’s Olympic Park. Click here for details of how to apply
Tue Apr 5: The SJA Olympic Question Time. Ticket booking to be launched in March.
Wed Apr 13: SJA 2011 Annual Meeting, at offices of UK Sport, Russell Square. Strictly SJA members only.
All details subject to alteration. Keep checking sportsjournalists.co.uk for updates