South Africa

Stop judging athletes on how well they speak English

2018-01-21 06:03
S'Busiso Mseleku.

Johannesburg - An interesting incident took place some years ago when I was hosting a sports show on Radio 2000.

The radio station was covering the European Championships and the commentary came from a BBC feed.

Veteran broadcaster Louis Karpas and I would preview the matches, sometimes with help from expert studio guests.

On the particular night, I was flying solo – with only a technician.

Correct feed

About 15 minutes into the featured game, the studio phone rang and a listener said: “S’Busiso, I think you are using television commentary for this match".

After promising to investigate and rectify the situation, I called him back.

Lo and behold! We were using a television commentary feed as the technician had mistakenly swapped the feed lines.

The listener thanked me and confirmed that we finally had the correct feed. Being the curious journalist I am, I asked the gentleman how he was able to pick up on the problem.

He said: “You see, I am a blind sports lover. I follow all sport on radio. Radio commentary is very graphic. For instance, they tell you which part of the field the ball is in; whether it is across the centre line, or on the left or right side of the field. However, on television, they just shout the name of the player in possession of the ball".

This should remind radio commentators how important it is to give detailed descriptions and regular score updates.

I was moved a few days ago when I saw a tweet in which Polokwane City marksman Rodney Ramagalela explained why he did all his interviews in Tshivenda, his mother tongue.

Judge sports people

“My father is blind and listens to soccer on the radio. He’s been blind since I was five, so I do interviews in Tshivenda so he can hear me,” reads the tweet.

When I dug a bit deeper, I found out the tweet had been trending since last week. What got my goat was the fact that the tweet came after the player was ridiculed for his poor grasp of the English language.

It irked me no end that some people were quick to ridicule Ramagalela without even finding out why he did his interviews in his mother tongue.

I have previously pointed out how I find it unfair for people to judge sports people according to how articulate they are. Not a single sports person has claimed to be the world’s best orator. All they do is go out and use their God-given talent to their best ability. The likes of Steve “Professor” Komphela and the late John “Shoes” Moshoeu are an exception to the rule.

This criticism is necessary for people such as myself, who choose to use their knowledge of the English language to earn a living.

It is unforgivable for a journalist to butcher the language, but it’s unfair to judge athletes based on how fluent they are in English.

Home language

There are long-standing jokes about a player who, when asked how he starts his day, said: “Every morning, I wake up and run away".

There is another one. When a player was wished a happy birthday, he replied: “Same to you".

And who can forget the soccer player who, when asked how many siblings he had, responded: “I have two brothers; one in front of me and one behind me".

These jokes are uncalled for and need to come to an end.

Big up to Ramagalela, and may he and all the other players who respond to interviewers in their home language keep it up.

You’ll be surprised to find out that those who threw stones at Ramagalela can’t speak that many languages themselves.

Maybe Ramagalela should ask: “How good is your Tshivenda?”

Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_Mseleku

Read more on:    rodney ramagalela  |  johannesburg
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