The Sports Journalists’ Association made history – again – yesterday, with its elections and policy changes announced at its annual general meeting staged in Fleet Street.
With the London Olympics been and gone, there were significant changes to the Association’s officers, and to its committee, which was elected without Ian Cole as a member for the first time since 1986.
The former Daily Mail and Express sports desk stalwart, now retired, has twice served as the Association’s chairman and has been an ever-present on the Association committee since 1986 – at a time when the organisation was still the Sports Writers’ Association.
To recognise his great service Cole, a past recipient of the SJA’s highest honour, the Doug Gardner Award, was made an Honorary Member in a presentation from the new chairman, David Walker.
“I’ve just been elected to the committee of my local bowls club in Essex,” Cole said. “If I manage 27 years there, I suppose I’ll be doing quite well.”
Walker is taking over as chairman after Barry Newcombe stands down after a record seven years in the chair, and paid tribute to his predecessor.
“It’s a great honour for me to succeed Barry as chairman of the SJA,” Walker said. “Barry has led the Association with distinction through some historic times. Seeing the Olympic Games staged in London was an unforgettable moment for everybody who loves sport. The SJA’s members, and executive, played a significant part in the success of the 2012 Games. That’s a statement that has been wholeheartedly endorsed by Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising team.
“Now the challenge is to take the SJA forward after such an epic year. I’m happy to take on that challenge as chairman in the knowledge of the support I’ll get from the first-class team of committee members around me.”
Walker’s election as chairman has an element of history about it, too: the Sunday Mirror sports editor is the first national newspaper sports editor to take on the demands of chairmanship of the Association since David Emery, when sports editor at the Daily Express, did so in 1986.
The Association also now has Sarah Juggins as Treasurer, the first woman to hold that post, succeeding Randall Northam after four years in the post, while Janine Self was elected as deputy chair, following in the footsteps of Pat Besford, the Telegraph’s esteemed former swimming correspondent who in 1976 – the year David Wilkie was winning Olympic swimming gold – was the first woman to chair the Association.
“I’m delighted that Janine Self has agreed to become my deputy,” Walker said. “She is a hard-working sports writer with an abundance of national newspaper experience. Her input will be invaluable in guiding the future course of the SJA.”
Two officers continuing post-Olympics are Sir Michael Parkinson as President and Secretary, Steven Downes.
The 2013-2014 committee includes two other national sports editors or “heads of sport”, in Howard Wheatcroft and Ben Clissitt, plus a former national newspaper sports editor, Stuart Higgins, while Tom Knight was elected to the committee for the first time. Others on the committee are Mary Fitzhenry (sports lunches and social events), Louise Poynton (regional newspapers), Steve Rose (photography), while Northam continues as chairman of the awards sub-committee. Philip Barker serves ex-officio as the Association’s representative on UEPS.
“It seems that I’m the first working sports editor to be chairman of the SJA since David Emery more than 25 years ago,” Walker said. “My appointment actually creates a rare, perhaps unprecedented, double for the Sunday Mirror. Andy Dunn, my colleague and sports columnist, is the chairman of the FWA.
“I promise we are not attempting to take over the world of sport – or planning to invade Poland. But in dealing with some of the licensing issues that crop up from time to time it may be beneficial to present a united front with our colleagues in the Football Writers’ Association.
“I hope I can represent the SJA in the manner all our members would expect. I’m always willing to receive advice. I hope the SJA can enjoy a marvellous post-Olympic legacy.”
In his final report as chairman, Newcombe expressed his pride and pleasure in leaving the Association in a financially healthier position than at any time in the past decade, thanks in the main to strong sponsorship partnerships most recently with the National Lottery, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, Laureus, Concerto and BT, something which was echoed in Northam’s financial report.
But the out-going Treasurer expressed the strong view that the Association will need to increase its subscription charges at the next opportunity. Membership of the SJA actually fell in 2012 – by seven – to a handful fewer than 750 – record levels in the SJA’s 65 years’ existence. Newcombe called for a membership recruitment drive in 2013, particularly to take advantage of the new Associate membership category suitable for those – including students – who do not qualify for full membership as professional sports journalists.
Midlands-based football writer Self, who has been on the committee for several years already, said, “I am delighted and honoured to be voted deputy chairman of the SJA and I am looking forward to working with David Walker.
“While Barry Newcombe will be a hard act to follow, I believe David is the perfect choice to lead the Association and take it forward.
“I hope that I can assist with the important job of raising the Association’s profile and to help encourage the sports journalists of today and tomorrow to join the SJA. The Association has grown and evolved in the relatively short period I have been on the committee and I believe it will continue to do so under the stewardship of David. There are exciting times ahead.”