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It’s all in the delivery

Today, we take the constant and relentless flow of sports news at real time for granted. In the not-so-distant past, match reports or analyses of huge sporting events would reach our shores days or even months later. TODAY senior correspondent Ian De Cotta (ian [at] mediacorp.com.sg) looks back at how the way sports junkies get their fix has changed dramatically over the past half a century or so.

Print coverage on the 1973 Sultan’s Gold Cup Final between Singapore Malays and Kelantan Malays. 
PHOTO: SINGAPORE SPORTS COUNCIL

Print coverage on the 1973 Sultan’s Gold Cup Final between Singapore Malays and Kelantan Malays.
PHOTO: SINGAPORE SPORTS COUNCIL

Today, we take the constant and relentless flow of sports news at real time for granted. In the not-so-distant past, match reports or analyses of huge sporting events would reach our shores days or even months later. TODAY senior correspondent Ian De Cotta (ian [at] mediacorp.com.sg) looks back at how the way sports junkies get their fix has changed dramatically over the past half a century or so.

 

 

The fifties and sixties

 

In the mid-20th century, Singapore had a vibrant sports scene and radio and newspapers were the primary sources of information.

Using telephones, reporters fed their organisations essential parts of the stories first to flash as news bulletins. But mostly, the radio or newspaper companies relied on dependable news agencies, equipped with the latest telex machines, to wire them the latest stories as they developed.

When weightlifter Tan Howe Liang put Singapore on the global sports map after he won the Republic’s first Olympic medal — a silver at the 1960 Games in Rome — news reached home within hours. On the track, the exploits of sprinter Canagasabai Kunalan and long-distance queen Chee Swee Lee were and transmitted thousands of miles away to their compatriots at home.

Mr Kunalan recalled: “From 1964, the TV station would send a bus with the news team for TV broadcast parked outside the stadium for ‘live’ telecast of the meet and show it at night during the evening news; we would even record my race on tape if we could.”

But it was football that drew the most interest in Singapore. A buzz of excitement descended upon the country’s football fans in the early hours of Sunday, Aug 1, 1965, after the story broke earlier in the night on Radio Singapura that the Lions had beaten Selangor 3-1 in the 39th Malaya Cup at Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Stadium. It was a wrap-up news bulletin before the station closed at midnight and details were scarce.

But the morning’s Sunday Times would fill in the gaps in a lengthy 1,000-word report. It relived the match with vivid images of goalkeeper Wilfred Skinner’s cat-like reflexes that denied the Selangor forwards, Majid Ariff’s deft dribble past the Selangor defence in the 73rd minute that cancelled Agus Salim’s strike after the break, and Quah Kim Swee’s brace in the dying minutes to seal Singapore’s second straight win and 21st triumph in the Malaya Cup to the delight of visiting fans among the 32,000 crowd.

Although details of the match emerged only the following day, it was a god-send compared with the preceding half-century, especially before World War II, when victories and defeats were celebrated or mourned at home days after they happened.

And outside of traditional mass media, the performances of athletes in big sports events such as the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, Asian Games and English football were analysed by sports magazines that, unfortunately, were available in Singapore only a month or two later.

Only the British Broadcasting Corporation radio service carried sports events “live”. It provided uninterrupted clear commentaries, thanks to a relay station here. The more adventurous would tune in to other overseas stations, but turning the dials on their radio to search for the correct short-wave bandwidth was a tedious affair.

The radio analogue signals were often interrupted by scratching noises, especially during thunderstorms.

But former national hockey player Annabel Pennefather said: “We didn’t really experience (the matches) — it had to come from the announcers and the way they viewed it. Not quite like being there.”

It was not until television was introduced in 1963 by Television Singapura — later known as Radio Television Singapore and the precursor of MediaCorp — that the delivery of sports information took on a whole new meaning.

Moving images on the goggle box in homes brought to life sports personalities, and their performances became a emotional experience for their followers. For the first time, sportsmen and sportswomen were brought directly before their audiences instead of through the radio and in print.

 

The seventies and eighties

 

But it was only after a satellite earth station was installed on Sentosa in 1971 that major international sports events could be beamed “live”.

Boxing bouts that featured the likes of the legendary Muhammad Ali, “Smoking” Joe Frazier and George Foreman captivated fans. The most notable was the 1974 World Cup final between the former West Germany and the Netherlands in Munich — the first time a major television programme was transmitted live in colour.

With Singapore’s Malaysia Cup campaign gaining a larger following after the completion of the National Stadium in 1973, live telecasts became a regular affair whenever the Lions qualified for the finals.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, the South-east Asian, Asian, Commonwealth and Olympic games, as well as English and European football, became a regular diet for sports fans here. The start of the teletext service in the ’80s was also seen as a game-changer then. For example, football fans could find out the results of football matches played overseas, moments after the final whistle had been blown, or read short match reports soon after.

“Sometimes I wonder if watching (the sporting event) is better on the television than ‘live’ because it has things such as close-ups and clearer pictures to see better and it gives you a better overall picture,” said Ms Pennefather.

From print media, radio and television, which was boosted by satellite technology, the stage was set for a quantum leap in the delivery of sports content in the new millennium.

 

The Internet age

 

But nothing in the development of media in the seven-odd decades since the 1920s can compare with the explosion of the Internet in the mid-’90s.

Suddenly, an encyclopedia on everything sports—including statistics and archived materials— was easily accessible by the ordinary sports fan. It sprouted chat rooms that brought together followers from all corners of the globe, who dissected and analysed their favourite sport and the personalities around them.

Experts and novices, separated by oceans and continents, traded opinions, unlike the traditional gathering of fans at pubs and coffee shops.

Self-styled pundits started blogs and held court on their pet subjects from tactics, player movements and coaches to offbeat discussions on their heroes’ hairdos and favourite foods.

Unlike the development of media in the real world, which took decades to develop into instant television in the satellite age, the pace of change in the virtual universe moved rapidly.

In one-and-half decades, it went from text-only discussion boards to real-time chats while watching a ‘live’ sports transmission on their smartphones and tablets. It also paved the way for sports personalities to connect with their fans, for whom in the previous century it was near impossible to even say hello to their idols.

In recent years, social media has also emerged as a key channel where sports is discussed and live updates are posted and picked up on mobile phones and tablets. Singapore has the second-highest penetration rate on this platform after Abu Dhabi.

In the past half a century, the way Singaporeans experience and consume sports has changed dramatically. With higher income levels, more are travelling to major international events such as the recent World Cup in Brazil.

How sport is consumed and experience in the next decade is anybody’s guess. Today’s technology was the stuff of science fiction 50 years ago, and the pace at which it is advancing can only be conceived now and may very well become reality in the not-too-distant future.

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