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Sports Writers Have The Edge

June 23, 2008

A few days ago, I blogged about an interesting experiment that's just been conducted by The Guardian newspaper in the UK. The newspaper asked its sports and arts critics to swap jobs for a day. The arts journalists were sent off to write about sports events, and the sports journalists reviewed various arts happenings.

After reading the arts writers' impressions of cricket, soccer, darts and other sports events, I had mixed feelings about the point of The Guardian's exercise. Some of the writers did a good job of bringing their own perspective as an arts writer to bare on the business of exploring sport. But many of the critics just seemed beffuddled, bored and/or naiive. I didn't gain any fresh insights into the sport they wrote about as a result, besides a sense of a wide and unbreachable gulf separating a sports event from the art of writing about culture.

I'm happy, however, to report that the Guardian's follow-up instalment late last week, in which sports writers covered everything from a Louise Bourgeois exhibition to a production of Tosca at the Royal Opera House, made for a much more interesting read.

It's not that the sports critics were better informed about the art they were covering. On the contrary, a few were open about their lack of knowledge. For example, soccer writer Kevin McCarra thanked his wife a couple of times in his piece about a contemporary dance performance at The Queen Elizabeth (Tero Saarinen Next of Kin): :There was a pas de deux in there (thanks again to Susan for keeping me informed), but melodramatic gesturing was the staple. It felt more like mugging than acting." But with the exception of golf correspondent Lawrence Donegan's boringly clueless piece about Yefim Bronfman playing Brahms with the San Francisco Symphony, all the writers rose to the challenge of bringing their own unique sensibilty as sports reviewers to the experience of writing about an arts event.

I particularly liked cycling and rugby writer William Fotheringham's article about a pop music concert by Metronomy for its sense of humor and wry (albeit fairly shallow) comparisons between the art of pop and the art of cycling:

"Be it an Olympic cycling team or three guys from Totnes playing music, there are always personalities on show, always a particular way of working. Here, the creative force, Joseph, is somewhat eclipsed on stage (if the gazes of the girls in leggings are to be judged) by the bassist, Gabriel, with his tortured cheekbones. Oscar, the one playing the sax, simply looks round and cuddly."

In short, The Guardian's sports wrters mostly put the paper's arts writers to shame. I don't think the experiment was terribly valuable on balance. Reading the articles certainly put a stop to my ambitions to persuade my editor at SF Weekly to attempt a similar stunt by rotating all the critics for an issue. But I'm glad The Guardian gave it a go anyway.

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