‘We must invest in investigations’ says Seppelt

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: In his new role as a university lecturer on journalism, ADRIAN WARNER is in the fortunate position of being able to invite guest speakers. Last week, thanks to a collaboration with the SJA, his students were able to listen to the reporter behind one of the biggest sports stories of recent times

German TV reporter Hajo Seppelt gave a talk to university students in Luton after presentation duties at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards
German TV reporter Hajo Seppelt gave a talk to university students in Luton after presentation duties at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards

Hajo Seppelt, the German television journalist whose revelations about Russian doping cover-ups sparked an international inquiry into corruption in athletics, has warned the media against making cutbacks to investigative reporting in sport.

At a time when media groups in Britain are facing major financial challenges, Seppelt told sports journalism students in a special lecture at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton that their generation especially needed to understand the importance of digging deep for stories.

“We need more young journalists who are happy to continue investigative journalism in sport,“ Seppelt said. “We need publishers and broadcasters to be in favour of that. We need more people to look behind the scenes. If people cut it, it is very worrying.

“Our job is to make the public smarter. In that way I am a PR person… Investigative journalism is good for the reputation of a company, good for its image and you are quoted worldwide.”

The day after handing out an award at the Sports Journalists’ Association’s British Sports Journalism Awards, Seppelt took up the invitation to give his first talk at UOB, where I have used his investigation as part of my lecturing to journalism students this year.

Seppelt and I knew each other during my time as a foreign correspondent, where we were both involved in investigating drug abuse in the former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The ARD journalist told the students how he grew bored and frustrated working as a swimming commentator and wanted to dig deeper into the cheating. He managed to persuade his public network, the equivalent of the BBC in Germany, to set up a special investigations department for sport.

“Some of my colleagues didn’t want to listen. They wanted to promote sport,” he said. “But we have a budget now for this. I am not very special. I just have special conditions. It is expensive. But you have so many benefits.”

Seppelt worked closely with the Sunday Times on his investigation and their findings lead to a major inquiry by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) panel which has made headlines across the globe. The IAAF, the world governing body of athletics, is facing more investigations by French authorities. And, for now at least, Russia’s track and field team is banned from competing at this summer’s Rio Olympic Games.

  • Adrian Warner is a past SJA Sports News Reporter of the Year who worked for Reuters, the Evening Standard and the BBC. He is now a part-time lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire in addition to his freelance reporting work
  • Next View from the Pressbox: Sarah Juggins, treasurer of the SJA, on the perils of working as a freelance
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