Q&A with author and sports journalist Liam Del Carme
Nal'ibali column No 3 Term 1 2020
Congratulations on Winging It, your book about a career covering rugby with the Boks. What can readers expect from the book?
We deliberately gave the book's exterior a passport theme. It covers stories and anecdotes accumulated over 23 years of travel with the Springboks and the Blitzboks. They aren’t just my own stories but also those of my travel companions. They often involve the bizarre, the weird, the wacky, the unlikely things that we encounter while writing about the Springboks.
Getting paid to watch sport is every fan's dream come true! I'm sure behind the scenes it's a lot tougher though: what are some of the most challenging moments you've experienced in your career?
It’s great to watch sport. Especially when you are watching the top exponents in their respective disciplines. The deadlines, especially when you are working in a different time zone, can be challenging. The other obstacle is language – someone salivating at the prospect of piping hot deep fried chicken may well end up with a bowl of bamboo broth! Then there are the players and the coaches. Their moods swing according to the last result. Some days they are happy to bump into you in an elevator; on other days they wish you were in Siberia.
What advice would you give to young fans who want to follow in your footsteps as a sports reporter?
I would seriously advise them to think about what draws them to the profession. While I have been lucky to report on sport for as long as I have, the industry is shrinking. The opportunity to travel is limited. At the last World Cup only three SA newspaper journalists attended. We will always need quality journalists but people coming into the industry must be awake to the fact that there is nothing glamorous about being a sports writer. If you are predisposed to taking selfies with players, then sports writing is not for you.
SA rugby has a painful history of deep racial segregation that needs to be tackled from grass roots development upwards. What can we do as supporters to change the narrative around the game?
When you look at the make-up of crowds attending Test and Super Rugby matches there is no doubt that the face of the average fan is changing. We may not have reached race and gender equality but those numbers are evening out. In Cape Town and Durban, almost as many women attend rugby matches as men. Disturbingly, however, the discourse on social media doesn't help: the Springboks are always one team selection or defeat away from a national meltdown. Media institutions have a responsibility too. They often feed this beast with articles aimed at nothing more than click baiting. All too often, our sporting debates lack gravitas and maturity.
One of the most exciting recent aspects of the sport is the development of the professional women's game. What's your experience of the shift in coverage and media attention globally?
There is more coverage, but I still feel we are way behind in the way we perceive the women's game compared to Europe and New Zealand. The women's game is celebrated in the UK, France and New Zealand, but here you get the sense that it is an add-on.
What role do you think established journalists like yourself can take to support exciting and meaningful coverage of women's sport?
I think we journos have a responsibility to shine more light. Unfortunately, resources, and here I'm talking about feet on the ground as well as space in publications, are shrinking by the minute. It would help if there were more women sports writers! It boggles my mind that we write about inequality when our doorstep is often littered with the filth of which we accuse others.
How do you think the way we speak about sport in SA might need to develop so that we can tackle outdated attitudes and focus on its positive potential?
I think our discourse in general is often extremely superficial and reactionary. It would also be helpful if sporting codes were more transparent about what their areas of focus are. Often their lines are blurred between high performance and growing the game at grass roots. Those are helpful messages to put out in the public domain. An example would be, what is the role of our Under-19 or Under-20 teams? Are they there to win trophies or do they exist to prepare young players for the rigours of professional sport? Administration needs an overhaul too. People hang on, or get into sports administration for the wrong reasons. Clearly government will have to play its role. SA undoubtedly has vast reserves of sporting talent but it will remain untapped unless social inequality is tackled more vigorously.
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