Chinese sports journalism: the search for cynicism

10.11.2005

By Play the Game
Mary Nicole Nazzaro, lecturer and former sports journalist, gave an attention-grabbing address to Play the Game on her experiences in China. Taking time out from her job lecturing on sports journalism at Shantou University, Ms Nazzaro spoke of the conditions that currently exist for sports journalists in the world’s most populous nation, and also looked to the future.

She related that her students were aghast when she divulged the first rule of sports journalism - ‘no autographs’ - and admitted that much remains to be taught. Everything at the Play the Game, she stated, would be of interest to her students.

Speaking of China’s successful Olympic bid, she described the very real public enthusiasm, which exists for the event. As apparently the only Westerner at an all night party in Tianamen Square after the awarding of the games, she related witnessing people crying ‘Long Live China’ and ‘Long Live the Olympics’ in the same breath.

She also described the nation’s first sprint gold medal in Athens as being the ‘biggest sports moment in the history of China’.

As a young sports journalist working in the USA, Mary Nicole Nazzaro was asked by an athletics magazine to conduct an in-depth interview with sprinter Kelly White– a job that she thought at the time she had performed well. Later revelations that White was a regular drug abuser came as a complete shock to the young reporter, and it was around this time, she believes, that she may have lost some of her innocence.

Mary Nicole Nazzaro now uses the example of her interview with Kelly White to try and instil a little cynicism into her students, and asks what questions they would pose today if a follow up interview could be arranged. One of the questions suggested was ‘what do you believe should happen to your coach?’

However, her students all agreed that they would never ask such a question to a Chinese athlete, as it would be seen as disrespectful to speak out against such a ‘father figure’ and violate the culture of respect and obedience that currently exists in Chinese sport and society.

She added her doubts that Chinese sports journalists would achieve the cynicism of their western colleagues anytime soon, at least not before the Olympics.

As an aside, she added that she was able to put some of the questions from the students to Kelly White at this year’s Play the Game conference, and will be taking her answers back with her to China.

Mary Nicole Nazzaro concluded by stating that Chinese journalism may not always be as tightly controlled as is portrayed in the west. Recent positive doping results and match fixing scandals have appeared prominently in the Chinese media, raising hopes that a critical sports press could be emerging.

Mary Nicole Nazzaro doubts that Chinese sports journalist will become cynical in time for the Olympics 2008.

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