• Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The more athletes are told what to say and do, the less attention on them. The less attention, the less interest. The less interest, the less sponsors. Isn't it time we just let people be themselves, asks Anthony Tan?
Cycling Central
8 Dec 2017 - 4:15 PM  UPDATED 9 Dec 2017 - 6:26 PM

"Teams only bring positive news and are restricting access to try to control the narrative."

So declared Raymond Kerckhoffs, president of the AIJC (International Association of Cycling Journalists) and longtime journalist with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, at last week's 'Play the Game' sport congress.

Held from November 26-30 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, the symposium brought almost 450 journalists, scientists and sport officials under one roof to discuss the most topical issues affecting world sport.

Earlier, in a session entitled 'Transforming the Business of Pro Cycling, recently ousted UCI president Brian Cookson said that the sport's "fundamental weakness is the lack of money".

"We are used to consuming cycling for free, but we can't consume any other sport for free," he said, but at the same time, didn't believe professional cycling could survive solely on subscription television.

The conclusion was that for the sport to thrive, it needed to find an alternative funding model and attract a wider audience.

Duh. Nothing new there. But it's perhaps because of how things are that leads to teams attempting to control the narrative, as Kerckhoffs suggested in his presentation, 'What is the media's role in the future success of Pro Cycling?'

Nowadays, all WorldTour teams have at least one press officer. BMC Racing and Team Sky have at least three.

We're eviscerating individuals to the point where the outsider is thinking, 'So what?'

Ostensibly, their job is to facilitate interviews with journalists and members of the team. Yet since the Armstrong era and particularly following his downfall, there has been more, how shall I say, selective facilitation.

There's conjecture over who actually said it, though it either came from the mouth of George Orwell or Lord Northcliffe: "News is what somebody, somewhere, wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."

If this holds true, then most of what we read today is advertising, only it's advertising disguised as news. Of course, we can't always expect to read a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism, and there is certainly a place for human interest stories, intelligent feature writing and, ahem, those pesky provocateurs they call bloggers.

My fear is that we're eviscerating individuals to the point where the outsider is thinking, 'So what?'

By continually telling a person what to say (or what not to say), we're left with nothing other than a bunch of clones, even though that's far from reality. I'm convinced every individual has an interesting backstory; the art comes down to how it's told.

If I was a press officer, I'd be telling the athlete or sports director or team manager to just be themselves. To accept criticism and, on occasion when required, dish it out. And to not hold grudges, simply because you didn't like what was written or said.

I mean, that's just part of life, isn't it?

Quite the contrary to how Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford behaved on the second rest day of this year's Tour de France, where he singled out Cyclingnews' Irish  reporter Barry Ryan. "You're not invited. We have invited the people we want to speak to. You've been writing shit about me," Brailsford told him outside their team hotel in Le Puy-en-Velay.

Ryan asked which parts of a piece he wrote Brailsford deemed inaccurate, which drew the response: "I'm not getting into that. It was opinion, you write shit."

Yes we need to change the business of cycling, but we also need to change the business of reporting cycling, for it's starting to feel so very same same, and interest appears to be waning.

As Oscar Wilde said, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."