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AIPS Awards show that sports journalism has moved away from mere results and actions. It’s about changing lives

Beyond the din of a sporting competition—whether it’s a FIFA World Cup qualifier, an Olympic 100-meter sprint, or a junior basketball game on a suburban pitch—lies an intricate web of backstories that have spawned the burgeoning genre of sports journalism. quite separate from sports reporting.

Those who 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 history, a group of sportswriters 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, research, color work and television documentaries revealed an incredible depth of excellent storytelling that often goes unnoticed.

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

Thus began the gold medal-winning Best Color Piece by Wufei Yu (China) and Will Ford (USA), published in Runner’s World.

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

Experience counted for nothing as an unusual cold snap left runners stuck between checkpoints, unable to go forward, too cold to go back. Only one of the group of six survived.

The story asks how it all went so wrong and speaks to survivors, some of whom are still grappling with what they experienced. This isn’t just coverage of a sporting 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 more humanity to highlight through your lens — especially in a social, political, and anthropological sense.”

In the far west of Ghana, on the banks of the Pra River, lies a small town that journalist Francis Hena describes as “more inspirational footnotes than headlines”.

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

Boys, children of subsistence farmers and fishermen, dream of an alternate universe in which they are great footballers playing on a world stage: they play for the Pra Babies Football Club, where a young coach struggles to teach the boys and tame them nourish and equip them to instill in them a sense of pride in who they are and where life could take them.

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

Hema focused on Pra Babies but there are such teams all over Ghana. This is where the journey began for many of the hundreds of Ghanaians who now play in every major league in the world.

“Young footballers in Ghana and Africa are struggling,” said Hema.

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

“What drives me as a sportswriter is seeing how my stories impact the lives of those around me and society at large.”

French journalist Matthieu Darnon won the Video Documentary Award for his confrontational portrayal of the 28 seconds in the life of former F1 driver Romain Grosjean when he was literally on fire.

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

The driver hit a metal barrier at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix and split his car in half when it exploded in a fireball.

His wife was watching live TV and thought she was widowed. Commentating on the race, his best friend tried to maintain control and coherence as his mind was out of control and flooded with emotions as the devastating scene played out in front of him.

Grosjean himself said he will never be the same as his car then, his life is now divided in two – before and after November 29, 2020.

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

“As sportswriters, we have a great opportunity to follow people who are testing human limits, be it mental or physical, putting them in situations normal people can’t even imagine,” he said.

“Actually, it’s pretty rare that your husband nearly dies in flames live on TV.

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