OLIVER HOLT: If we can’t interrogate our heroes, you’ll only get propaganda


I still don’t know who asked the question. I know it was a woman and I know her voice came from a few rows behind me in the press room of the Olympic Stadium after the men’s 100m final at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics in London. I looked at Usain Bolt when she asked and when I turned around she was lost in a sea of ​​faces.

The question was clear and pleasantly blunt. She addressed it to bronze medalist Bolt, gold medalist Justin Gatlin — a two-time drug cheater who was booed after his win — and silver medalist Christian Coleman, who has since been banned from this summer’s Tokyo Olympics for repeated failures to win. comply with drug testing regulations.

“Today’s winning time was the slowest for a gold medalist since 2003,” the journalist began. Bolt began to laugh contemptuously. “And the marks in general,” she said, “were much slower than the previous edition of the World Cup. I would like to know if you think there is a relationship with stronger anti-doping control.’

Journalists have to ask difficult questions of our sports heroes, otherwise we will only get propaganda

In case you’re wondering, I’m not going to join the orgy of self-flagellation about how despicable it is that journalists have the audacity to question sports stars during press conferences. The opposite actually. I always thought that one of the most important things about being a journalist was to ask questions, ideally challenging questions.

By the way, I am not saying that I am a shining example of art. I am not. But some of the people I’ve always admired the most in sports journalism – Brian Glanville, Matt Lawton, Christine Brennan, Rob Harris, Dan Roan, Paul Kimmage, Charlie Sale, Andy Dillon, Martha Kelner, Ewan MacKenna, Suzy Wrack, Sean Ingle, Riath Al-Samarrai – sits front and center at press conferences and asks questions that are sometimes uncomfortable.

That’s what we should be doing. Otherwise you will only get propaganda. You might as well get your news from a club website or Phil Foden’s Twitter feed, written by a guy who sits in an office in Battersea. “News is something someone wants to suppress,” newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst is said to have once said. “Everything else is advertising.”

Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after saying she would not attend press conferences

If you want opinions often rejected by a third party, turn to social media. If you’re a journalist who hates press conferences and thinks everything they offer is bullshit, don’t go there. Naomi Osaka can be fined if she doesn’t show up, but you can’t.

Osaka withdrew from the French Open last week, citing concerns about her mental health and arguing that her struggle with prolonged depression would be exacerbated by media inquiries, which are a contractual obligation for players participating in Roland Garros. and other Grand Slam tournaments.

I don’t know Osaka and I wouldn’t dare doubt her decision. She made a statement about it that made her reasoning very clear. I do know that she is one of the brightest stars in the game and that tennis needs her.

It also turned out that the treatment of Osaka in Paris was harsh. It seemed to many that she was being kicked out of the tournament. I hope it’s a natural instinct to wish tennis to find a way to help Osaka, not punish her, but what I don’t understand is why the outgrowth of that instinct seems to have been to condemn press conferences as exercises in uselessness.

In an age where access to sports stars is increasingly controlled and agents and governing bodies are trying to investigate questions, open press conferences are more important than ever.

When I think of press conferences, I think of Kimmage confronting Lance Armstrong at the 2009 Tour of California, I think of Barcelona in 1999 when Sir Alex Ferguson said ‘Football, bloody hell’, I think of Stamford Bridge in 2004 when Jose Mourinho said ‘I’m not someone out of a bottle, I’m a special one’, I think of listening to the memories of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the press room of Augusta National.

When I think of press conferences, I think of Stamford Bridge in 2004, when Jose Mourinho said 'I'm not one from a bottle, I'm a special one'

When I think of press conferences, I think of Stamford Bridge in 2004, when Jose Mourinho said ‘I’m not one from a bottle, I’m a special one’

I think of the audience at the Hudson Theater in New York in 2002 when Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis turned their presser into a brawl, I think of the agonizingly awkward press conference of the US Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles in 2014, which told you exactly why the US loses to Europe so often when the world ranking says they should win every time.

When the journalist asked that question at London’s Olympic Stadium in 2017, Bolt was incredulous. He leaned back in his chair, nudged Gatlin and signaled that he would handle it. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what?” he said. “What’s she saying there?” The journalist began to repeat the question. “I heard you, but what am I saying?” said Bolt. He was now playing to the public, and some journalists, wanting to do his favor, giggled obligingly.

At press conferences there are always a few sycophants among the journalists, and Bolt’s appearances were more than their fair share. She persevered, undeterred by the laughter. “This season and also in the last World Championships,” she said, “we have slower times, much slower. Twenty-one times under 10 at the World Championships in Beijing and less than 10 this edition.’ Bolt stared back at her. “First of all, I think everyone here is very disrespectful,” he said.

Really? Disrespectful? In that case, thank God for a little disrespect. What, disrespectful to Gatlin? What about Coleman, an athlete who subsequently showed such disdain for the sport that he doesn’t even bother to stick to the whereabouts rule? Disrespectful? I do not think so. Just a journalist who does her job well and asks a simple question that deserved a decent answer.

She got none. Especially since athletes are not used to being asked such questions. Especially since they are used to working in controlled environments where they only get obedient questions when they are in front of a sign with all their sponsors pictured on it. Lack of control terrifies athletes because press conferences carry the threat of the unexpected.

Journalists are there to ask the tough questions of athletes like Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt

Journalists are there to ask the tough questions of athletes like Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt

In the modern world, press conferences are about the only time they are exposed to questions beyond propaganda. Press conferences still make their attendants and their entourage nervous about being out of control of the questions, although that is now beginning to change. Anyway, you can see the footage of this question on YouTube. “Usain Bolt Shuts Down a Reporter Asking About Drugs,” reads the headline.

Actually, he didn’t close it. In fact, he opened himself right away. Bolt and Gatlin got a question they didn’t like, and the hostility of their response showed the world why athletics was on the brink of death. Most importantly, someone had the platform to ask the question in the first place. If that platform is taken away, another level of responsibility falls away and that can’t be good for the sport or the people who love it.

Relentlessness in football goes both ways

After the enthusiasm with which he turned his back on Everton for Real Madrid, I think we can forget the idea that Carlo Ancelotti represents one of the last bastions of honor in football.

On the other hand, if you were fired by Chelsea in a hallway in Goodison Park the year after you led the club to the Double, Ancelotti may believe that in football management ruthlessness cuts both ways.

Carlo Ancelotti has the right to believe that ruthlessness in football management cuts both ways

Carlo Ancelotti has the right to believe that ruthlessness in football management cuts both ways

The inclusion of Ward-Prowse in England makes the most sense

Gareth Southgate made the right choice by signing up to four players who can act as right-backs in his original England squad for the European Championship.

Their talent, their versatility and their ability to fill different positions in different systems demanded their inclusion. With one of them, Trent Alexander-Arnold, out with an injury, I hope James Ward-Prowse gets his chance.

It would be tough on Jesse Lingard, but with doubts about Jordan Henderson’s suitability and less coverage in that position, not to mention his devastating dead ball ability, the inclusion of Ward-Prowse makes more sense.