Unbalanced Sports Coverage in the Indian Media
Case Study: Sportstar


The aim of this article is to show the unbalanced sports coverage prevalent in the Indian media (online, television, print), by means of a case study of the leading English language Indian sports weekly Sportstar that is published from Chennai.

This article focusses on the cover stories of Sportstar in 2002 and 2003. Cover stories have the benefit of prominent real estate on the magazine cover, a couple of in-depth articles inside the magazine, colour photographs accompanying the text, and sometimes, a related editorial, interview or poster. A star or a sport gets much more exposure when featured on the cover than when hidden as an ordinary article in the inside pages of the magazine.

This article makes occasional references to the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated of USA. The context of these references is print media coverage of sports in USA and India using the comparable medium of leading sports weeklies, and is not meant to serve as a springboard for a broader discussion topic such as sports culture or sporting infrastructure of USA vis-à-vis India.

Having defined the scope of this article, the following case is being made against Sportstar magazine:


a. Sportstar ignored Anju Bobby George

In August 2003, female long jumper Anju Bobby George became the first Indian athlete ever to win a medal, a bronze, at the World Athletics Championships, with a leap of 6.70 metres.

Ignoring the significance of this effort, the 5 Sportstar issues in August 2003 featured a total of 10 foreigners on the covers (Beckham, Anna Kournikova, Clive Lloyd, Steve Waugh, Mike Brearley, Hanse Cronje, Graeme Smith, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Shane Warne).

No Indian athlete, not even the greats like P. T. Usha and Milkha Singh, had won any medal in the world championships before Anju Bobby George. Instead of featuring on its cover an Indian, non-cricket sportswoman who brought laurels for our country, Sportstar chose to showcase foreign sportspersons in the month of August 2003.

b. Sportstar ignored Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza is the first female winner of a Grand Slam tennis title from India. Sania is world no. 3 in the junior doubles rankings, and has six ITF singles titles to her name. However, any reader of Sportstar would be left wondering who in the world is Sania Mirza?

Around the time Sania won the Wimbledon title, Sportstar did 3 successive cover stories on foreign tennis players - Ferrero and Justine Henin (June 21-27, 2003), Pete Sampras (June 28-July 4, 2003) and Roger Federer (July 19-25, 2003). Where was India's Sania Mirza in this mix? How will Indian sport produce new Sania Mirzas if we do not highlight the one that we already have?

c. Sportstar ignored Koneru Humpy

Koneru Humpy won the world u-10 chess championship in Cannes (1997), the world u-12 title in Spain (1998), the world u-14 crown in Spain (2001) and world junior championship in Athens (2002). Koneru became Asia's youngest Woman International Master in 1999, and India's youngest Women's Grand Master in 2001.

Doesn't Koneru Humpy, and through her India's unknown and unsung women chess players, deserve a cover story by Sportstar?

d. Sportstar ignored Indian women's hockey

The Indian women's hockey team won the 2002 Commonwealth Games hockey gold in Manchester and the 2003 Afro-Asian Games hockey gold in Hyderabad. In both cases, the Indian team upset much stronger teams like England, South Africa, New Zealand and South Korea en route to the titles.

Should not Indian women's hockey's double-triumph on the world stage be deserving of a cover story? Many of India's women hockey players are tribals from the Jharkhand-Sundergarh area of India, who came up the hard way in sports, and in life itself. Can't Sportstar do a human interest story on our tribal golden girls?

e. Sportstar ignored women award winners

India's highest sporting award, the Rajeev Gandhi Khel Ratna, is awarded for the 'spectacular and most outstanding performance in the field of sports by an Indian sportsperson'.

Two women jointly won the 2003 Khel Ratna award. One of the awardees won 2 Asiad golds, 1 Asiad silver, 1 Asian Grand Prix gold and 2 Asian Grand Prix silver medals. The other awardee won 4 Commonwealth Games golds, 1 Commonwealth, 1 Asiad and 3 World Cup silver medals, and also the title 'Champion of Champions'.

Can the Sportstar editors even name the two outstanding Indian sportswomen mentioned above? What else do these sportswomen have to do before Sportstar does a cover story on these Khel Ratna awardees? Do the Government of India's national awards for sporting excellence have any significance for an 'Indian' 'sports' magazine called Sportstar?

f. Sportstar ignored ALL Indian sportswomen

No Indian sportswoman graced the cover of Sportstar in all of 2002 and 2003. Were there no worthy Indian sportswomen to highlight? Who will be the role models that budding Indian sportswomen can relate to?

In that same time period, Sports Illustrated has featured four women from four different sports on its covers. Though 4 cover stories in 2 years may not be a big number by itself, that is at least 4 more than Sportstar.

Feb 25, 2002 Mar 4, 2002 May 26, 2003 Sep 22, 2003
Chris Witty
Speed Skating
Sarah Hughes
Figure Skating
Serena Williams
Mia Hamm

ESPN magazine went one better. It devoted its 5th anniversary issue (March 31, 2003) to women's sports in USA. It introduced the cover story thus:

The Big Four in the Big Four of American Sports - Basketball, Baseball, Football and Ice Hockey - may be Kobe, A-Rod, Kordell and Lindros. But there is so much more to sports than just those four. Soccer. Golf. Tennis. College Sports.

That's why this issue, ESPN The Magazine's 5th Anniversary Issue, has tennis phenomenon Serena Williams, Women's World Cup star Tiffeny Milbrett, youngest ever LPGA golfer Michelle Wie and college basketball star Diane Taurasi on the cover.

The biggest thing is sports over the last five years isn't the Lakers or the Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Angels or the small sports market vs. the large market conflict. No, the biggest sports story of our lifetime is the ever-increasing relevance of women. Women's sports has gone mainstream, and if these athletes aren't part of your sports vocabulary, they should be.


a. Sportstar neglected Indian football

Baichung Bhutia's team, East Bengal, was the first ever Indian club team to win an international tournament on foreign soil, when they won the LG ASEAN Club Championship on July 26, 2003.

Baichung was voted the Player of the Final and the Player of the Tournament, scored an incredible 9 goals in 5 matches, and then went on to sign a 2-month contract with Perak FC of Jakarta and an endorsement deal with Nine Yards, a marketing firm in Mumbai.

Instead of doing a cover story on Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia in its subsequent August 2-8, 2003 issue, Sportstar instead did a cover story on footballer David Beckham, with the cover line being 'Celebrity like no other'. Sportstar has got its priorities wrong. For Indian football fans, Baichung is a celebrity like no other, only then followed by Beckham and others.

b. Sportstar neglected Indian hockey

The Indian junior hockey team, with budding stars like Gagan Ajeet and Jugraj Singh, won the Junior World Cup in Australia in 2001. En route to the title, India beat strong teams like Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Argentina.

However, the cover stories of  Sportstar around the time of the Junior World Cup (October 9-21, 2001) were devoted to India's cricket tour of South Africa. On what basis did Sportstar highlight an Indian cricket team that lost matches to Kenya and South Africa in the tri-series, while ignoring an Indian hockey team that won the world championship?

October 6 October 13 October 20
Jacques Kallis Javagal Srinath Gary Kirsten

c. Sportstar neglected Indian volleyball

India's u-19 volleyball team won the gold in the Asian Junior Championship (Visakhapatnam) and the silver in the World Youth Championship (Bangkok) in July 2003, losing in the final to 5-time champions Brazil. The Indian team had an average height of 6' 3" (as opposed to 6'7" players on the opposing sides), played just one practice match, against Iran, prior to the championship (as opposed to other teams' 35-40 preparatory internationals), had no doctor, no video machine and relied on a last-minute government sanction to make the trip.

This same team went unbeaten till the final (even beating Brazil in the league stage), dropped only two sets till the final, before eventually losing to world champions Brazil. This was a fantastic achievement considering that volleyball is played by over 200 countries in the world.

In any other country this dream run of the junior team would be called a Cinderella story by the media, but Sportstar did not deem it worthy of even a cover story. Evidently, Sportstar believes that being garlanded at the airport on their arrival in India is good enough for our volleyball juniors.

d. Sportstar neglected Indian snooker

Sportstar's 2003 Sportsperson of the Year was a non-cricketer, the newly crowned world snooker champion Pankaj Advani. But Sportstar readers may well be asking Pankaj who? There was no Sportstar cover story on Pankaj Advani in all of 2003, either when he won the world title or when he won the Sportsperson of the Year award.

If winning the world title was such a big event, why did it not merit a cover story? If the Sportstar Sportsperson of the Year is such a big honour, why did not the award winner Pankaj Advani merit a cover story? Is the award ceremony just an annual formality that Sportstar goes through and then quickly forgets?

Compare the above with Sports Illustrated's 2002 Sportsman of the Year - Lance Armstrong. There have been a total of 5 Sports Illustrated cover stories on Lance Armstrong - 4 after each of his Tour de France victories (2000-03), and 1 for being voted the Sportsman of  the Year in December 2002.

It shows that Sports Illustrated is not hypocritical in the choice of the Sportsperson of the Year. Though he comes from a non-major sport in the US, Lance and his sport merited cover stories both leading up to the award and after.

Jul 24, 2000 Aug 6, 2001 Aug 5, 2002 Dec 16, 2002 Aug 4, 2003

e. Sportstar neglected sports that are not cricket and tennis

49 of the 52 (94%) cover stories of Sportstar in 2003 were either on cricket or tennis. Did any other sport take place in India or the world in 2003 besides cricket and tennis? Has India got reduced to a two-sport country - one major sport (cricket - 40 cover stories) and one minor sport (tennis - 9 cover stories)?

In comparison, Sports Illustrated featured 8 different sports on its cover in 2003 - football, baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, cycling and diving. Unlike Sportstar devoting 40 covers to one sport, Sports Illustrated almost evenly divided magazine covers to the various major sports (NFL - 12, NBA - 11, Collegiate Sports - 11, Major League Baseball - 10), with the relatively minor sports of soccer, tennis, golf, cycling and diving also getting their due when the championship event in that sport occurred.


a. Sportstar ignored the Asian Games

India won 11 gold and 12 silver medals in the 2002 Busan Asian Games. One of India's stars was a woman athlete, Kerala's K. M. Beenamol, who won the 800m gold, the 4x400m gold and the 400m silver.

However, in the Sportstar issue immediately following the Asian Games, instead of featuring Asian Games star Beenamol on the cover, Sportstar featured Shane Warne with the tag line 'Mozart of a marvellous art'.

These sporting mega-events come once in 4 years, so instead of putting a foreign, white, male cricketer on the cover, why not put an Indian, female athlete Beenamol on the cover? After all, Beenamol won 2 gold and 1 silver medal for India in the Asian Games, should not her achievement have been rewarded with a cover story?

b. Sportstar ignored the Commonwealth Games

India won 30 gold and 22 silver medals in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, and in the process set 20 Commonwealth Games records. India was placed 4th in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, behind Australia, Britain and Canada. This was by far the best performance by India in the last two decades.

How can Sportstar be termed as a sports magazine when it did not do an in-depth cover story on the 2002 Commonweath Games, and instead, had cricketers on the cover during the event?

c. Sportstar ignored the Afro-Asian Games

b. The inaugural 2003 Afro-Asian Games was held on home soil in India from October 23 to October 31, 2003. The Games came about after years of sustained lobbying by the Indian Olympic Association.

India won a total of 80 medals in the Games, the maximum by any country. India won 19 gold medals, second only to China, and ahead of Japan, Korea, Nigeria and South Africa.

Was not the historic inaugural Afro-Asian Games worthy of a cover story? Instead, Sportstar had 9 consecutive cover stories on cricket (Sep 28 - November 29, 2003) in the month preceding and the month after the Afro-Asian Games.

d. Sportstar ignored the National Games

The National Games are India's biggest multi-games sporting event. There have been 32 National Games held so far in India.

The most recent National Games were held in Hyderabad from December 12-21, 2002. However, the December 7, 14 and 21 cover stories of Sportstar in 2002 were all devoted to cricket.


a. Sportstar suffers from an inferiority complex

65% of the Sportstar covers in 2002 and 2003 featured foreigners. In stark contrast, only 3% of the Sports Illustrated covers featured foreigners, which is very natural considering that it is an American sports weekly.

Isn't it a severe case of colonial hangover or an inferiority complex that 65% of Sportstar's cover stories in the last couple of years featured foreign sportspersons? Were there no Indian sportspersons worthy enough to place on the cover? Is Sportstar an Indian sports magazine or a foreign sports magazine?

The only foreigners to feature on the Sports Illustrated covers in 2002-03 were Yao Ming of China (basketball) and Ichiro Suzuki of Japan (baseball). The only reason Yao and Ichiro made it to the coveted Sports Illustrated cover was because they play professional ball in USA, and not in their own countries.

Jul 8, 2002 Oct 28, 2002 Feb 10, 2003

While Sports Illustrated and Sportstar are both being extreme in their coverage of foreign sportspersons, being inclusive and insular is the lesser evil when compared to ignoring your own and looking outside your shores for sporting inspiration.

To use a film analogy, how would readers feel if say Filmfare magazine put Hollywood stars on its covers and neglected Indian film stars? Or if Filmfare spent pages and pages on the Academy Awards of the US and ignored the prestigious National Film Awards?

b. Is race car driving a big sport in India?

What is it with foreign, white race car drivers and Sportstar? In 2002, there was 1 cover story on Michael Schumacher (May 11-17), and 3 separate Sportstar posters - Ralf Schumacher (March 30 - April 5), Michael Schumacher (August 3 - August 9) and Rubens Barrichello (September 28).

But there were no Sportstar posters in all of 2002 of non-cricketing Rajeev Gandhi Khel Ratna winners such as Dhanraj Pillai or Pullela Gopichand or Vishwanathan Anand. Does Sportstar think that there are more car racing fans in India than of hockey or badminton or chess?

c. What is the relevance of World Cup Football to India?

The year 2002 saw both the World Cup Hockey and World Cup Football tournaments take place. The former event, where India participated, merited no Sportstar cover story. The latter event, where India did not participate, got 7 consecutive cover stories (June 1 - July 19, 2002).

India is 5th in world hockey and 125th in world football. Which World Cup is more relevant for India? Just because World Cup Football is a big deal in Europe and South America, does it automatically mean it is a big deal in India?

Sports Illustrated did devote two cover stories to the 2002 World Cup Football. However, both covers featured home-grown American soccer stars - Clint Mathis and Landon Donovan.

May 27, 2002 Jun 24, 2002

On the other hand, despite India having its own National Football League, there was not a single poster of an Indian football star in all of 2002, whereas 17 foreign football stars were featured on 12 consecutive Sportstar posters (April 27 - July 19, 2002).

d. Simple predictable formula: Show either Indian Cricketers or Foreign Sportspersons

In the 2002-03 timeframe, 101 out of the 104 Sportstar cover stories were either on Indian male cricketers or on foreign sportspersons. The 3 cover story exceptions were Leander Paes (2002), Paes-Bhupathi (2003) and the Indian hockey team (2003).

Does Sportstar understand that an entity called non-cricket Indian sportsperson exists? If so, is 3 cover stories in 104 issues a fair representation for non-cricket Indian sportspersons?


As its responsibility to Indian sports, Sportstar should highlight a wider range of sports, and put more Indian non-cricket stars, both male and female, on its covers and posters.

Sportstar can do that by not blindly giving the top spot to cricket on its covers, posters and lead articles, regardless of whether India is playing or not, regardless of whether India is winning or not, and regardless of whether cricket is in the season or not.

a. Comments by Harsha Bhogle

Modern sports is increasingly about selling of television rights, team sponsorship and player contracts. In most places in the world, all this is preceded by team performance. When a team plays well, television companies are interested, so are sponsors and contracts get bigger.

Indian cricket is among the rarest examples in civilisation where all this is independent of performance.

Would you continue to buy bags that rip open? Milk that has gone bad? A magazine with blank pages? Would you not demand that manufacturers give you better products? Then why do you not, viewers and readers, demand better products from our cricket administrators.

b. Comments by Sunil Gavaskar

The English media have switched off cricket after the exit of their team from the 1999 World Cup. They can turn to football, where England is aiming to qualify for the Euro 2000, and if that does not come about, they can turn to tennis at Wimbledon which starts a day after the cricket World Cup finishes, and if there is disappointment there also, then they can talk about golf, then Grand Prix racing.

The beauty is that even though none of their sportspersons are in the top of any sport, their media will pin their hopes on English sportspersons and build them up till their exit, after which they will whine and moan for a few days and then turn to the next sport.

Unfortunately for Indians, that is not the case, for cricket is a passion to the detriment of other sports. This is not good, for talented persons in other sports just do not get the exposure, leave alone the commercial opportunities that cricket gets.

c. Comments by Outlook magazine

When South Africans say they love cricket, it is not through hoardings of cricketers advising you to use toothpastes or eat biscuits. Not by fans standing in a queue outside a ticket counter in a cricket stadium for 12 hours. Not by running behind the car in which a cricketer is just rumoured to be sitting.

South Africans show that they love cricket by playing football, tennis, rugby and many other sports. They climb mountains. They run. They cycle.

A 50-year-old white woman in whose house I stayed runs 7 kilometres every day and takes part in a 20-kilometre run once every year. Her husband played hockey for the Zimbabwe national team. He also plays cricket and tennis. Former captain Hansie Cronje could run 55 kilometres in three-and-a-half hours. Jonty Rhodes represented South Africa in hockey.

The South Africans love SPORTS. That's why they love cricket.

d. Sportstar tries to be more loyal than the British Queen

More than half a century after Independence, Sportstar's desire to be more loyal than the queen has made it forget its broader Indian sporting roots. Sometimes it has people wondering if Sportstar is being published out of London or Sydney, given its fawning, worshipful, obsequious, servile articles on foreign sportspersons.

For example, in August 2001, Wisden of England came up with a list of Top 100 Batting and Bowling Performances. The Sportstar editorial went overboard when describing Australian Stan McCabe's 1938 test innings of 232 (no. 41 on the list):

Great sporting moments seldom announce themselves. The performer and the performance become one as it happens in the best of music and art, and the act of genius elevates everybody present to an exalted realm.

Long after such a great moment enacted on a sports stage has passed, those who had watched it sit and ponder its transcendental quality, its sublime brilliance and how the light bounced off on them too.

Whew! What was he smoking? Try translating the above verbiage into another language to see how ridiculous it can sound.

e. Sportstar has a myopic view of sports

In conclusion, based on the various Sportstar issues of 2002 and 2003, it is fair to say that Sportstar is essentially an international men's cricket weekly that masquerades as an Indian sports magazine.

However, Sportstar has got to realise that there is more to Indian sports than just cricket. Note that India participates in the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Afro-Asian Games quadrennial mega sporting events, and all of them do not include cricket as one of their sports.

Cricket is primarily confined to a handful of countries - test cricket is played nowhere in the Americas barring West Indies, nowhere in Europe barring England, nowhere in Africa barring South Africa/Zimbabwe, nowhere in Asia barring the subcontinent, and finally Oceania.

Sportstar's coverage of cricket should be balanced with the coverage of other Indian sports. As India's Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore succinctly put it, "I love cricket too, but unless there is focus on Olympic sports, no youngster will ever start playing them."

Finally, if the editors of Sportstar subscribe to that tired cliché that cricket is not just a sport but a religion, they need to get some perspective. The Lords is not the Lourdes, the Gabba is not to be confused with the Kaaba, and Motera is most certainly not Mathura. In fact, they do not even come close.