Telling it like it is
This is a tough time for sport. We seem to be going through one of those phases when there is nothing but bad news on the back pages.
Cycling and athletics have been hit by highly damaging drug scandals involving their champion performers. The World Cup was blighted by the dark art of “simulation” (please, can’t we just call it diving and have done with it?). Italian football has been rocked by corruption. England’s national stadium seems further away than ever.
And money simply dominates everything - from The Open golf, where most of Tiger Woods’ ”challengers” appeared reluctant to take him on for risk of losing out on the small fortune that comes with a top 10 finish, to the Premiership, where Chelsea’s summer purchases look to have made next season even more of a one-horse race than last time.
As a sports journalist you want nothing more than to write about the glory of sport. In much the same way that a non-league footballer dreams of stepping out at Wembley, so a humble sports hack longs to be in the stadium at the World Cup final, filing copy on a thrilling 5-4 victory for their national team.
But sadly it can’t always be that way. Sometimes the glory is in short supply.
And as a responsible, principled editorial operation it is the duty of BBC Sport to cover the darker side of sport. We won’t shy away from the tough issues that arise, from drugs and diving to corruption and mismanagement.
Some people won’t like that, though, and may even object to us turning the lens on the inner workings of their sport. For instance, I’ve been struck by the reaction from some cycling fans to a piece one of our senior journalists, Matt Slater, wrote about the Floyd Landis affair last week.
Matt had some tough messages for this sport, writing from the perspective not of a cycling obsessive, but as a general sports fan who enjoys the Tour de France and other big events. This, after all, is what the BBC Sport website is all about. We are not a specialist cycling site, but we aim to cover a broad sweep of sports for a wide-ranging audience.
I think it’s fair to say that, from the reaction on our message boards, many of the cyclists among you objected to the line Matt took and were unhappy that he provided such a personal commentary on a controversial affair. A common response seemed to be that BBC Sport were somehow “picking on” the relatively soft target of cycling when other sports, notably the behemoth that is football, are themselves far from clean. This kind of reaction is understandable and is indeed something we welcome - sport is all about opinion and I’m glad we have opened up a wider debate about the media coverage of respective sports.
But I want to be clear: we are not singling out cycling for censure. Other sports have problems too and we will continue to do all we can to highlight them – including, when the situation merits it, some strong comment from our best writers.
There is a difference between straight news reporting; background features which provide more context on a complex story; and informed, hard-hitting opinion. The BBC Sport website should be able to accommodate all these distinct kinds of coverage – but I want us to do so in a way that makes sense to our audience. So that means keeping comment and reportage separate and being explicit in those instances where we are offering personal comment, whether it's from a staff journalist or from a member of the public.
The debate will go on – both about the negative side of sport itself and about how we, the media, respond to it. But you will continue to see us take on difficult subject matter that comes up, no matter what sport is involved.
I know, for instance, that the question of whether extreme wealth is distorting the Premiership is of huge concern to many fans - and it's one I would like us to tackle in the coming months, in innovative ways that avoid easy cliche.
We've got some ideas on how to do this, but I'd be intrigued to hear what you think too...