The 2005 SJA Sports Diarist of the Year overcomes his dislike for space-filler pieces like this to answer The Questionnaire, where he pours scorn on “media directors” and reveals an intriguing sideline in providing B&B accommodation to up-and-coming athletes called Coe. And he looks back on the “surreal” Rumble in the Jungle
Give a brief summary of your career to date, and your current work
I’m a sports writer and columnist with the Independent on Sunday, specialising in sports politics, the Olympics, athletics and boxing. Covered 10 summer Olympics and three Winter Games as well as numerous football World Cups, Commonwealth Games and big fights all over the world from Atlanta to Zaire.
Have been sports editor of two national Sunday newspapers, the Mail on Sunday and The Observer, having edited Britain’s first all-sports publication, Sportsworld. Was Olympic Journalist of the Year in 1992 and Sports Diarist of the Year in 2005.
What was your first sports journalism assignment?
Covering Tooting and Mitcham FC as a cub reporter on the Balham and Tooting News and Mercury.
What has been your most memorable/enjoyable assignment during your career?
The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali v Foreman, Kinshasa, Zaire, 1974 (pictured). Simply surreal.
What is the latest task you have been working on – was it good, bad or indifferent?
Interviewing Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell, the former Olympic sprinter, about his sporting interests. Fascinating stuff.
What involvement does your family have with sport or journalism (or both)?
My wife Jean is a former international swimmer (her team manager was late SWA doyenne Pat Besford). My daughter Clare is a black belt in judo, coach and referee. Son Richard is a website journalist with Tottenham Hotspur FC.
What has been the best sports-related book you have read recently, and why?
Haven’t read any sports books recently other than Mike Lee’s Race for the 2012 Olympics, but if I had, none would match A J Liebling’s The Sweet Science, which wonderfully word paints boxing as it was and to some extent still is.
If you did not work on sport, what do you think you might be doing?
Either a travel writer or a comedy script writer.
Name your greatest sporting hero, and why.
Muhammad Ali, truly the greatest sports personality ever, a media man’s dream and one who transcended boxing and almost turned it into a thing of beauty.
What changes in the business do you really dislike?
These types of questionnaires which are little more than space-fillers in some newspapers. I am pleased to say the Independent on Sunday‘s sports editor is of the same view and does not use them.
Plus so called “communications directors” and spin doctors who act as buffers between journalists and competitors and have no knowledge of the work of the media despite having degrees in media studies.
Which sports journalist’s work do you look for first, and why?
Martin Kelner – sports TV critic of the Guardian, who makes me laugh – a rarity in any form of sports journalism these days.
Seb Coe or Steve Ovett?
Have always been a Coe man since the days I knew him as an impecunious 17-year-old when he stayed at my home because he could not afford a hotel room. On that occasion he was my guest at an SWA dinner/dance in those halcyon days when it was more of a social occasion. What became of him, I wonder?
Read previous Questionnaires from other SJA members here.
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