SJA increasingly relevant in 2012 build-up

BARRY NEWCOMBE, Chairman of the SJA, presents the Association’s annual report ahead of this week’s AGM

After the heavy demands of the SJA’s 60th anniversary year, 2009-2010 proved to be just as busy for your Association, and in many ways even more challenging.

The SJA continues, through the work of its committee, to forge new and stronger relationships with various bodies in an effort to improve the working conditions of our members and the activities that we can offer. And it appears that our efforts to make the SJA increasingly relevant to sporting bodies are paying dividends.

Recently we staged a sports politics debate with Gerry Sutcliffe, the current Minister for Sport, and his shadows from the two other major parties, Hugh Robertson and Don Foster, which was attended by nearly 100 sports journalists from print, online and television.

This event was delivered thanks to support from the CCPR and the organisational skills of committee member Mary Fitzhenry. I thought the venue in Farringdon Road was an excellent facility that helped in delivering a high quality event, and I have no doubt we will use it again.

Within the same month, the SJA was also approached for help and assistance in terms of reaching our members by bodies as significant and varied as England’s Commonwealth Games committee, the Dutch organisers of the Grand Depart for the Tour de France, the office of chief executive of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and also the 2012 London Olympic organisers, with whom we enjoy an increasingly fruitful relationship.

The SJA has not been immune from the impact of the global economic downturn, however, and that may have been reflected in slightly fewer attendees at our two major annual events of the year, the British Sports Awards staged in December and last month’s British Sports Journalism Awards, both staged at The Brewery in Chiswell Street. That did not adversely impact the smooth running of these two prestigious events, where we were delighted to present the Sportswoman of the Year award to Jessica Ennis and welcome hundreds of guests from the upper echelons of British sport.

Entries for the Sports Journalism Awards set new records, as interest in the event remains high, as also reflected by an encouraging discussion at an informal lunch staged recently with the sports editors of the national newspapers and agencies. We are confident that their valuable and continuing input will assist the SJA to to improve and grow our operations.

But the SJA has to fund its activities, and in this respect we are extremely grateful for the ongoing support from the hosts of today’s annual meeting, UK Sport, who have been steadfast sponsors of your Association for more than a decade now.

Regrettably, we will soon be bidding a fond farewell to our other lead sponsors, SkyBet, who have decided after two years not to continue their support which was extremely generous well beyond the simple financial terms of our arrangement. We thank them for their help and hope that they will want to continue to work with us in other ways. But their decision makes it a matter of utmost urgency that we manage to find new partners to work with us on our events.

These include a thriving series of sporting lunches, with a programme in 2009 that exceeded anything we had previously organised, including champions from sports as diverse as darts, triathlon and rugby, our guest list including Phil Taylor, Alistair Brownlee, Rebecca Adlington, Christine Ohuruogu and Martin Johnson. Plans for 2010 are already developing, and begin with another innovation next month, when invited SJA members will attend a reception hosted by London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Part of our growth in terms of attendees at all these events, and membership, which has now reached more than 750, has been the continuing growth of the SJA website, Traffic was immensely heavy on the night of the journalism awards recently, with 120,000 visits to the site for news of the winners, helping towards a staggering 1 million-plus hits on the SJA website in March alone.

Maintaining the interest in our website is largely the work of Secretary Steven Downes, who has the correct mix of technical and editorial skills for the job. He does a few other things for the SJA as well, and deserves our considerable thanks. I should thank, as well, all those who also contribute to the website with news,views and valuable information. You will be surprised where it is read around the world.

Thanks, too, to our Bulletin editor Keir Radnedge, who has been backwards and forwards to South Africa a few times and will be reporting to us from the World Cup.

Keir continues as chairman of the football commission of AIPS, the international sportswriters’ association, and Britain’s international influence will extend further with the recent decision to appoint SJA member Paul Radford, Reuters’s global sports editor, as chairman of the AIPS Olympic commission through to 2012.

Today’s annual meeting marks something of a watershed for the SJA, as we say farewell to a couple of dependable stalwarts of our committee for most of this decade, who have both been very influential in modernising the Association and driving it forward.

My predecessor as chairman, Peter Wilson, carried on by working as chairman of the judges for our journalism awards for four years. We owe Peter a huge vote of thanks for the discipline and dedication which he has applied to that task, and his tireless work on behalf of the SJA for even longer. Happily, we have found a willing volunteer to take on the onerous job as chairman of judges, and I am delighted to announce today that Jon Ryan will take that on this year.

We also owe many thanks to my vice-chairman Stuart Robinson, the Daily Express‘s sports photographer, who is standing down after four years to concentrate on his work commitments in the run-in to the Olympics. I would like thank him for the calm and considered advice and guidance he has given to us on various photographic issues and am pleased that Stuart intends to remain on the committee for the coming year. I ask today’s meeting to support Stuart’s replacement as SJA vice-chairman David Walker, the sports editor of the Sunday Mirror.

Our partners at Start2Finish Events have also undergone a major change recently, with one of the company’s founders, Sandra Phillips, deciding to concentrate on organising her soon-to-be two children, rather than organising us. Sandra has worked alongside the SJA, in particular on our two awards events, since her time with Sport England, and she will be much missed. I would like to give her a warm vote of thanks from the whole of the SJA membership, and our best wishes for with her new baby.

As we offer votes of thanks, I also wish to thank our Treasurer Randall Northam not only for running our week-on-week operation, but also, along with Membership Secretary Bill Colwill, for trying to sort out the question of who has or has not paid their subscriptions. With effect from this meeting, failure to pay the correct amount after a warning will result in loss of membership from the end of April.

We should also thank to David Welch, the chairman of our awards sub-committee, for their considerable efforts on our behalf.

The clock ticks towards the Olympic Games in London. Our latest SJA tour of the Olympic Park takes place next week and there will be many other events organised with LOCOG in the coming months, while we will also be monitoring media developments as we get closer to 2012.

2010 promises to be a massive year of sport, and for sports journalism, with the World Cup in South Africa and Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and the SJA expects to be involved in representing its members’ interests at all such events.

Barry Newcombe
Chairman, Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain
April 15, 2010