Meet the Jurors: Mark Gleeson on #BlackLivesMatter and COVID-19 as the stories of 2020

  • July 20, 2020
Graphics by Nordcap Studio

AIPS Media

LAUSANNE, July 20, 2020 – Veteran South African journalist, Mark Gleeson, has hailed the AIPS Sport Media Awards’ “rise in standard” over the last two years, as he looks forward to what the third edition of the Awards has in store. Gleeson, who is a leading football journalist and commentator in Africa, is especially impressed with the quality of submissions emanating from his continent and has expressed optimism in the young generation of African journalists. Regarding the themes that would likely dominate this year’s submissions, Gleeson believes the Black Lives Matter movement would have a big impact.

“The movement, as well as the COVID 19 pandemic, are the stories of 2020. The fight against racism in sport has been going on for a long time now and while there have been some positive developments, there is still so much blatant racism that occurs almost daily.”

In this interview with AIPS, Gleeson also speaks about his experience in the period of lockdown - without football - and the “annoying protocols” journalists are expected to face in the new reality.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far as a juror of the AIPS Sport Media Awards?
The extent of the passion that sports journalists bring to their trade and how committed they are. It has been very interesting to see the wide swath of entries, of differing standard, and also the different approaches in different languages and cultures. But there is the common cause of trying to tell a good story in as best a way possible. There has also been a marked rise in standard in entries over the last two years, which ensures that the winners are really those at the top of their profession.

As a football journalist and commentator, how did you view the world without football in the period of lockdown?
It was tough! The routine that covering the game brings to our lives was thrown out of balance and I felt a little at sea at first. But then there was also the opportunity to work on stuff that I had been hoping to get around to, but had not been able to, because covering the day-to-day drama of football in my patch of the world was all consuming. I have been delighted to work on a few historical and statistical projects while stuck inside. But, to be truthful, I was also delighted when football returned in Europe and there was something to watch. We are still awaiting the return of the game here in South Africa but it is likely just a few weeks away now.

What was your impression of the submissions from Africa in the last two editions of the Awards?
Improving all the time and showing all the attributes that make for good sports journalism anywhere in the world. African journalists do not have the luxury of great outlets to display their work. Few newspapers have the design elements that can lift a good story to even greater heights and television production equipment is also mostly rudimentary, so there in a bit of a disadvantage. But there is no lack of potential in Africa and a lot of commitment. I am also struck at how many young people are coming through the ranks, which is a very positive thing.

What is the secret of a good column and a good colour piece?
To tell a story or deliver an opinion in a concise, lucid, colourful, maybe sometimes humorous, and thoughtful way, and also, most importantly, to captivate the reader from the start and hold his or her attention and focus; to take the reader on a ride of sorts. Subject matter is also key. There are so many interesting stories to tell in the world of sports and, thankfully, so many talented storytellers as we see from the submissions to the AIPS Awards.

What impact will have the Black Lives Matter movement in this year’s submissions?
I reckon a big impact. The movement, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, are the stories of 2020. The fight against racism in sport has been going on for a long time now and while there have been some positive developments, there is still so much blatant racism that occurs almost daily. Just look at what black footballers in Europe are subjected to from crowds every time they play. It is heartbreaking when they tell me of the horrible vitriol and naked hatred they face for no other reason than the colour of their skin. The BLM movement is a step in changing this, but whole societies need to change their outlook for the scourge to be eradicated.

With the return of football, how do you perceive the new reality for journalists?
We are going to have to deal with a lot of annoying protocols which are, however, all for our own good at this time. As much as it is a drag to sit far away from your friends in the press box and other irritants, it is necessary, in the short term at least. I also think once the virus scare has gone, contact will not be as frequent as in the past with mixed zones, for example, largely limited. I think online press conferences will be more commonplace but we might actually have better opportunity to speak to a wider spectrum of sports people because it is so easy to put together a ‘Zoom’ or ‘Teams’ call. It is going to be fascinating to see how all this technology changes the way we interface with the sports people we cover.
Mark Gleeson began his journalistic career aged 20, winning the prize as the best Cadet Reporter for 1984 and going onto be based in Durban and Johannesburg, through which he cultivated a lifelong passion for African football. Gleeson covered South Africa’s admission to CAF at the Dakar Congress in 1992 and has been to every single Nations Cup tournament since then –14 in a row. He has also attended all World Cups since 1986 in Mexico, missing only Italy in 1990. In 1993 Gleeson founded the soccer magazine KICK OFF, and embarked on a career commentating for television, first with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and later SuperSport. In 2017 Gleeson was awarded the Confederation of African Football’s highest award – Medal of Honour (Gold) – and also inducted into the South African Sports Journalism Hall of fame.

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