Media and the transformation of demographics in sports as it relates to ethnicity and sex

What is it that we remember the gymnast Nadia Comaneci for? For the Perfect 10? For the three gold medals she won at the 1976 Montreal Olympics? Yes. We may not realize, however, that we also remember her for her ethnic identity — that she was a Romanian from the Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe who later defected to the US.

And, what do we know about Zinedine Zidane? That he is one of the greatest footballers ever? That he was FIFA World Player of the Year thrice? That he headbutted the Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final? Yes. Besides all this, however, we also know that Zidane is of Algerian origin.

Comaneci and Zidane are epitome of how various factors, including the demographics of the sports fraternity, play an important role in the way media creates a package around a particular sports person. Anybody familiar with the newsroom babble from anywhere in the world would know that certain key words always get the editors excited. For instance, a ‘first woman gymnast with a score of perfect 10,’ is less saleable than a ‘first woman gymnast with a perfect 10, hailing from Communist Europe’.

You could flog media for nurturing such proclivities, however innocuous those may be — they are a part of media essentials in the Americas as much as in Europe, Asia and Africa. The meek, the weak and the underdog always get bigger headlines for their triumphs than the mainstream go-getters. The triumph of the weaker sex or weaker ethnicity is always more charming than any mainstream achievement. That’s fair too, in some measure. However, one should not construe that media reserves its accolades only for the dark horses. One should also not conclude that the media always had a soft spot for the little guys.

There was a time when a sports person from the weaker sex or ethnicity didn’t get the attention from the media that his present-day contemporaries get routinely. If a sportsperson from a disadvantaged section of the society found it hard to compete with the privileged, then acknowledgment of the feat was harder.

The increasing role and reach of media in our lives is putting more spotlight on everything than ever before, including on the underprivileged achievers in sports, changing the demographics of sports. This positively has a trickle-down effect on the communities that give birth to these special achievers.

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