AIPS Awards show sports journalism has moved on from mere results and action. It’s about changing lives

Beyond the noise of a sporting contest – be it a FIFA World Cup qualifier, an Olympic 100m sprint, or a junior basketball match at a suburban court – lies a complex web of back stories that has given rise to the growing genre of sports journalism, quite separate to sports reporting.

Those who choose to specialize in it use the prism of sport to explain the complexities of the world we live in with its geopolitical, cultural and social divides.

This week in Doha, as the Socceroos wrote the next chapter in their own individual and collective histories, a group of sports journalists from every continent gathered in the same city to have their work recognized at the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) Awards gala.

The photographic portfolios, investigations, color pieces and broadcast documentaries revealed an incredible depth of story-telling excellence that often goes unnoticed.

A man stands in a cave.
Shepherd Zhu Keming stands in a cave, where he saved the lives of six runners during the disastrous ultramarathon than claimed 21 lives.(Getty Images: Gao Zhan/China News Service)

So began the gold medal winning ‘best color piece’ by Wufei Yu (China) and Will Ford (USA) published in Runner’s World.

It’s a haunting account from those who survived the tragedy of China’s 2021 Yellow River Stone Forest ultramarathon.

Experience counted for nothing as a freak cold snap left runners stranded between checkpoints, unable to go forward, too cold to go back. From the lead group of six, only one survived.

The story asks how it all went so wrong, speaking to survivors, some of whom are still struggling with what they experienced. This is not just the reporting of a sports event, this is journalism at its finest.

“I think sports journalism is often associated only with celebrity and entertainment culture,” Ford told The Ticket.

“But there’s so much greater humanity you can highlight through its lens – especially in the social, political, and anthropological sense.”

In the far west of Ghana, on the banks of the Pra River, is a small town described by journalist Francis Hena as ‘inspiring footnotes rather than headlines’.

He won the Best Broadcaster Young Reporters category with his story of hope emerging from what many might call a village of despair.

Young boys, children of subsistence farmers and fishers, dream of an alternative universe where they are big-time footballers playing on a world stage: they play for the Pra Babies Football Club where a young coach struggles himself to teach the boys, to feed them and kit them in order to develop within them a sense of pride in who they are and where life might take them.

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“It’s very difficult,” coach Roland Fiifi Ackon tells Hema. “You don’t get support from anyone.”

Hema focussed on Pra Babies but there are teams like it all over Ghana, it is where the journey started for many of the hundreds of Ghanaians now playing in every major league in the world.

“Young footballers in Ghana and Africa struggle a lot,” Hema said.

“I hope my story on Pra Babies will change the narrative and the major stakeholders will give footballers at the grassroots the needed attention to help them reach their full potential.

“What drives me as a sports journalist is to see my stories impact the lives of people around me and the society at large.”

French journalist Matthieu Darnon won the Video Documentary award for his confronting expose on the 28 seconds in the life of former F1 driver Romain Grosjean where he was literally on fire.

Marshals use a hose to try to put out a fire burning fiercely in a F1 car in Bahrain.
Romain Grosjean survived this horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020.(AFP/DPPI)

The driver hit a metal barrier in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, splitting his car in half as it exploded into a fireball.

His wife was watching live on TV thinking she had become a widow. His best friend of him was commentating the race trying to remain in control and consistent as his mind of him was out of control, flooded with emotion as the devastating scene played out in front of him.

Grosjean himself said he will never be the same, like his car at the time, his life now is in two parts – before and after November 29, 2020.

Darnon, the documentary maker, said journalists who do what he does are in a privileged situation.

“As journalists of sports, we have the great chance to follow people who are testing the human limits, either mentally or physically, which brings them to situations that normal people couldn’t even imagine,” he said.

“Actually, it’s quite rare to see your husband almost perish in flames live on TV.

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