Did your favourite newspaper or television news channel tell you that we have a World Cup Cricket coming up? Or that a World Chess Championship has recently taken place in India? Unlikely, because these are both for the visually impaired. And that makes the news immaterial for the mainstream media. Krishna Gupta discusses the issue
Let’s start with giving you a spot of news.
The World Cup Cricket for the visually impaired was scheduled to be held in South Africa in December. The December part of it stands. But it’s now moved to Islamabad in Pakistan. Why? “Very simply, the South African body could not raise the funds and organise the necessary infrastructure for it and said that they cannot host it,” says George Abraham, Founder of the Association of Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI).
Let’s give you another bit of news.
The World Chess Championship for the Blind has moved out of Europe for the first time in its 11-year history and has come to India. Honour enough; so it was decided that Mumbai would host the tournament in May earlier this year. But “a variety of reasons forced us to postpone it to October,” says Charudatta Jadhav, Secretary, All India Chess Federation for the Blind (AICFB). “However, we couldn’t get a venue for 10 days in Mumbai, so we had to shift it to Goa,” he adds.
That is just one part of the story. Let’s now discuss the bigger story. It is a story that becomes even more relevant if everything written above has come as news to you. That’s because what we are trying to discuss is the near-complete ignorance of the mainstream Indian media towards anything that is non-mainstream. Such as sports for the visually impaired.
The first question we ask is: why is there little or no coverage of these sports in the Indian media?
Abraham answers it for us: “On the face if it, the coverage blind cricket gets in India and Pakistan is slightly more than in the rest of the world. Maybe because it is still cricket, which is such a passion for people in India. But most often, the television media covers blind cricket only if there isn’t any other sporting event going on. If something is happening, then it’s totally ignored.” The same goes for the print media, he continues, but they do put in a little item in some corner of the publication every once in a way.
Former Indian Test cricketer Syed Saba Karim elaborates, “I have been invited a couple of times to inaugurate blind cricket tournaments, and I saw absolutely zero organisation. There is no structure. I didn’t see anything that would make me stand up and advocate the case of blind cricket. First of all, blind cricket is not very viewer-friendly. So the coverage of blind cricket in the television media can only be on humanitarian grounds. And for that, the organisation has to be good. It has to appeal to the broadcasters.”
Another former Indian cricketer says on condition of anonymity, “To be honest, the only way around for blind cricketers is to use some of the senior Indian cricket team players to come out in their support. Get Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar to support the cause. That will help.”
Karim agrees, adding, “Pick someone like Rahul Dravid. He is the captain of the Indian senior team. He has a great reputation, is a household name, and when he speaks out for a cause, people listen. Why not use him?”
This year, Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Irfan Pathan have endorsed the World Cup on camera.
This has been aired and it is believed that it will help in the promotion and awareness to a great extent. The AICFB has bought the idea as well. “There is very little support for the tournament in the media,” points out Rufina Fernandes, Advisor to the AICFB. Jadhav says, “We sent out a lot of e-mails to the media for information, plus held a series of press conferences in the lead-up to the event and even prepared a documentary film that was sent out to the television channels.”
Again, that’s just a part of the story. The endorsements from the senior Indian cricketers are certainly going to help because the star-struck Indian media will lap up anything to do with names such as Dravid, Sehwag, Pathan and Dhoni. But how likely is it that the other promotional activities are going to be covered?
“Unlikely,” says a senior sports journalist with a leading national daily. “Yes, newspapers will carry a small item as a snippet. But not much more. The chess tournament will be largely ignored, except on the opening day. The World Cup Cricket might be followed a bit more. But not unless there is a match between India and Pakistan and maybe if India reaches the finals.”
From the point of view of the electronic media, it’s very simple. Says the Sports Editor of an English-language national television network: “We would cover blind cricket if our viewers were interested in it. But there’s no indication of that being the case. So while I agree that it’s something we should do, we can’t take a risk.”
Abraham concurs, going on to explain, “Obviously we do not expect any publication to send a reporter to Pakistan to cover the World Cup. Maybe if India wins the tournament, there will be some attention.”
That’s the verdict then. Whether it’s chess or cricket. Whether it’s a World Cup or a World Championship. If you’re not mainstream, the media doesn’t have the time. Will the mindset change? Going by history, not in a hurry. But if the efforts that the ACBI and the AICFB are planning to put together do have even a bit of effect, it could be the first step towards scoring a very significant goal.