Fitness and the Media : Mainstream Coverage of Strength Sports


Phil Pfister on Letterman. More of this please.This is the second article in this month's series on fitness and the media; a collaboration with Run to Win's Blaine Moore.

Mainstream coverage of strength sports.

Whenever you flip to the sports section of a newspaper, catch the television news or find yourself watching a random event at the Olympics - there is a fairly limited range of sports shown. This varies from country to country; in Australia the mix is generally rugby, cricket and the occasional spot of swimming. The strength sports (particularly Powerlifting and Strongman) seldom get so much as a mention.

This is certainly less than ideal. Whilst there are several changes which may help (more on that in a minute), the current situation is something like this* :

* this is based on the media coverage in Australia, the UK and much of Europe. If things are wildly different in the US (or elsewhere in the world), I'd love to hear about it.

Free-to-air television

This varies slightly from channel to channel. The mix usually involves a couple of football codes (Rugby League and AFL games always lead the way), cricket, swimming (during major events) and international favourites such as the City to Surf. Strength sports are seldom mentioned.

Cable television

The above sports are certainly available, in addition to various forms of Motor Racing. Once again, the strength sports seldom rate.

Paralympics

Although this is a major international competition - held every 4 years, shortly after the Olympic Games - it receives very little media attention compared to that enjoyed by its well-known cousin. This is despite the fact that the same level of training and preparation is involved.

Unfortunately this oversight means that the Powerlifting competition - always a great one - usually goes unnoticed. Very disappointing.

Films

If you can see a pattern forming here, get ready for things to continue. The majority of sporting films here feature football, cricket or swimming; with an occasional surfing or ski movie gracing the big screen.

Sorry, no strength sports here.

Radio

This varies from the free-to-air TV mix only with the addition of horse racing. Not even a mention of the heavy stuff.

Newspapers

As with the Olympic coverage, the major papers seem to focus on the top sports of the local area. The difference here, however, is that the information seems to centre on negative results by otherwise good athletes. Sporting heroes who are seen drunk in a nightclub, or have a bad day on the field.

Even in the negative press, the strength sports seldom get a mention.

What can be done to improve things?

The mainstream media presents the information it believes people want to see. In order to change this, the various TV, radio and newspaper executives simply need to be informed that a different mix is desired.

There are several changes that would greatly help this. Here are a few suggestions; your own views are more than welcome.

Get more children involved : One of the reasons that the above sports (as well as baseball in the US, I suspect) are regularly shown is that children play them in large numbers. When kids come home from school talking about a particular sport, or dedicate time each week to playing it; that sport will have a good chance of appearing on the television news.

Modified versions of both Powerlifting and Strongman competitions - specifically for children - would go a long way to increasing coverage of these sports.

Lift things that look heavy : When I first saw a Strongman competition (perhaps 30 years ago), I was amazed that people could lift anchors, large stones, fridges, cars - things that looked heavy. It was only after I started weight training myself that I could relate to the occasional events that involved a bar with plates. 200kg may sound like a fair bit of weight to someone who trains; to everyone else, however, it's just a number.

In both Powerlifting and Strongman competitions, a lot could be gained by simply making it look as hard as it is.

Encourage athletes to promote themselves : It's common to see a sporting hero advertising something or other. Footballers, golfers, baseballers, runners; all getting behind their favourite shoes, sports drinks or cars. It's definitely a big business that's here to stay.

When was the last time you saw a famous Powerlifter doing this? Or a Strongman?


A lot of the discussion regarding this situation seems to suggest that there are too many governing bodies involved with Powerlifting; or that Strongman competitions are not always organised perfectly. In many cases these claims may be correct - although the same things could be said for football, baseball, cricket, swimming and just about any other sport. There's a lot more to it than that.

As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What changes would you make in order to get the strength sports more coverage in the mainstream media?


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Scott Andrew Bird

Scott Andrew Bird is a writer, photographer and a guy who just loves this stuff. He's been at home in front of a computer for more years than he cares to remember (OK, 35) and is now making amends for years of many mistakes noted in the De-constructing Computer Guy articles (part 2) on T-Nation.

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