Once upon a time, the United Kingdom shone with stories of sporting greatness.
Once upon a time, Londoners flipped to the back of their newspapers knowing a story would make them smile.
Yes, a lot has changed in the six weeks since the end of London’s Olympic summer. The gold of summer has turned to Autumnal dust.
Today, as I pick up a London paper off a subway seat, I flinch. I already know the back sports pages will echo the sadness found at the front.
During the games, it was different. The sports headlines in the UK were crammed full of feel good stories whether this was Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich suprise marathon win, Usain Bolt’s outrageous showmanship or young Ellie Simmonds’ determination in the pool.
Sport was being celebrated for what it should be – escapism, fun, exercise, competition.
However, as we waved a sad farewell to the Olympics and Paralympics, the joy of sport decided to hitch a lift to Rio and disappear with his two new friends.
Goodbye Jessica Ennis, hello John Terry! Farewell Michael Phelps, howdy Lance Armstrong! Adios golden summer, welcome back battle against racism!
This negativity is nothing new. This year Terry and Armstrong have simply replaced Luis Suarez and FIFA corruption.
While the media undoubtedly has a public responsibility to reflect wrong doings in sport, it is worth questioning whether sometimes journalists get a little carried away. Because rather than using sport to boost the public, the press, persists in highlighting the depressing, dark and miserable side of their world.
I’m fed up with this type of sports coverage – but guilty of it too.
Of course, as a sports journalist, I have covered many negative stories but it isn’t my natural inclination to do so. There is a growing pressure to follow suit. If everyone else is obsessing over racism and doping, should I?
Because there are millions of sad tired faces on the streets of the UK’s cities and I want sport to cheer them up. Because one of the few refuges we have from life’s pressures should be protected and not twisted into news.
Because I want to write about sport. And fun stuff!
Surely there are still people who believe sport news should be uplifting. Filled with stories of greatness like Frankel – the wonder horse who won 14 consecutive races on the weekend. This is news too. The unbeatable stallion retired as one of the greatest horses of all time but the next morning we were already back to John Terry, a Kick it Out armband and racism. How sad.
However serious the fight against racism is, the joy of sport is worth protecting too.
At the start of the week, a number of major online sports publications led with articles on racism along with pieces on Chris Kirkland (the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper attacked on the pitch by a Leeds fan) and Lance Armstrong. Those on Twitter around the world will be well aware of the constant stream of negative sports commentary.
Does sports coverage really need to be so deep, so hard, so consuming?
More importantly, will positive changes be inspired by such endless negativity?
Or are we being subjected to journalists trying to prove their intellect, morality and importance? Armstrong’s story will rumble on and on as commentators continue to one up the next about how disgraceful the whole thing is. He cheated, let’s move on.
Let’s move on to the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Serena Williams and Lionel Messi, stars that haven’t been tainted by lies, cheating and conspiracy. Sport figures who open the door to great news stories.
Yes the balance is rather complex. ‘Sport’ or ‘news’? ‘Sports news’ or ‘news’? ‘Sport’ or ‘sports news’? You could argue for hours over what belongs where but sports editors should ask themselves if they have space for a bit more positivity.
Editors should be producing articles with the weary commuter in mind and not to compete with the news editors on how serious sport can be.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but when sport turns serious, real serious, it is news. And this gives us the freedom to enjoy it far more than we currently do.
(I extend my apologies for the negativity of this article and for ending on a depressing note… I will now go and write something uplifting)
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website.