A faster, higher, stronger fix: the sport of live coverage (Comment)

September 1st, 2008 - 11:42 am ICT by IANS  

On Aug 24, after the stupefying finale of the Beijing Olympics, it was time to whip out the little black book.The Games were over and the familiar withdrawal symptoms were raising their ugly head. How fast the two Olympic weeks had flown by, despite the wonderfully botched coverage by Doordarshan.

Now where could one get one’s next high, next fix? Cricket in Sri Lanka? Tennis at the US Open? When is the Twenty20, dash it?

The craving for sensory stimulation is unbearable. For, the power of live coverage to lull us into thinking we are part of a larger collective ‘reality’, a decisive moment, is immense. Even though we may be watching alone in the privacy of our homes, potatoes incarnate.

But look at the way the event is magnified several times over through every media at hand and, finally, by word of mouth, in homes, offices, schools, pubs, everywhere. To be out of it is to be cast out of Eden and be without a sensational experience.

It helps immensely when this universe comes packaged as entertainment, bringing in elements other than sport. It becomes much easier for anyone to become a sports lover.

In fact it becomes easier by the day, as egged by business logic, sport itself endeavours to attain a dramatic edge and glamour that is strictly reserved for tinsel town and big bucks.

Trivia serving sport as trivia has been a sure-fire hit in getting audiences on board.

Remember Mandira Bedi? The actor and TV anchor of the off-shoulder fame who introduced an entirely new dulcet note to the existing babble which goes by the name of cricket match curtain-raisers, lunch and tea deliberations and post-mortems?

If she can talk cricket, why not my domestic help Sulochana?

Last week I almost fell off my chair when Sulochana asked me if “that tall guy” had won the fight. She was referring to Indian middleweight boxer Vijender Singh’s semi-final bout. Then she asked me about actor Bipasha Basu’s relationship with him.

It turned out that a young sports enthusiast had told Sulochana that Vijender wanted to go on a date with Bipasha if he struck gold and she, being a patriotic sort, had said yes.

Had Sulochana watched the TV channel which morphed images of Vijender and Bipasha’s boy friend John Abraham in a boxing ring, she would have learnt a lot more about boxing, for sure.

In the past six months Sulochana has every now and then knowledgeably murmured that “India” manages to lose winning matches in cricket. During one-day matches all she wants to know - in case she has missed out on something while washing the utensils - is if India had won or not.

That is the other hook: dressing up sport, or should it be down, into one basic contest of victory or loss. Sulochana responds to wins and losses and the accompanying surge of adrenalin or acidity accompanying these eventualities with as much gusto as just about everyone else who has been drawn into the web of live coverage - grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers.

A life without adrenalin is still life, and not worth talking about. It certainly has nothing to do with sport.

And yet, it was in a picture of stillness that veteran sports journalist T.R Ramakrishnan, reporting for China Daily, perceptively discovered the ‘definitive moment’ of the Beijing Games.

It was a photograph of the charismatic Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva. The photo showed her taking a cat nap in the gargantuan Bird’s Nest stadium — face covered, in the midst of her pole vault final, “seemingly switched off from the rest of the world”, moments before her golden vault.

Ramakrishnan wrote that the image radiated a calmness which, for him, was the moment of the Games — not Michael Phelps’ or Usain Bolt’s achievements in “stretching the limits of what the human body can achieve”.

The photograph showed that “like all great champions, Isinbayeva can look inside her head and still her mind. They say that perfection lasts just a moment. Isinbayeva in the photograph stretches a moment to eternity”.

Ramakrishnan’s luminous observation would have been missed by almost every avid sports lover hooked to the potent combination of pace and power that seems to dominate present-day definitions of sport, life and live coverage.

To put it delicately, who has the time to watch the unfolding of eternity, even if it be the attractive Isinbayeva?

(Chitra Padmanabhan is a journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at chitrapadmanabhan@yahoo.co.in)

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