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Some gentle advice for commentators

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Expert
10th May, 2021
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Where would we be without sports commentators? Somewhere happy and peaceful? Perhaps.

But it cannot be denied that commentary is a crucial part of the sporting experience. Watching sport without several excited men – or, let us be frank, women – bellowing at us never quite feels right. It’s why attending sporting events in person is so disappointing: without commentators, how do you even know what’s going on?

Yes, commentators fulfil a vital role in the sporting ecosystem. But nevertheless, the current state of play in commentary boxes is not perfect, and I feel compelled to offer a few gentle suggestions to the commentary community, a few little bits of advice to make the fan experience a little more enjoyable, and the hurling of heavy objects at TV screens a little less commonplace.

Wests Tigers fan boos

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Firstly, stop saying players are doing things “for fun”. Yes, it seemed like such a clever phrase the first time you used it, didn’t it? “He’s scoring tries for fun”, “he’s hitting centuries for fun”, “he suffers soft tissue injuries for fun”.

But it didn’t take long before the novelty soured – in fact I would estimate it was about the second time someone used the phrase that the bloom left the rose – and this quirky little figure of speech became the scourge of sports lovers everywhere.

Because they’re not doing it for fun, are they? They’re professional sportspeople making large amounts of money, and they are scoring tries, hitting sixes, kicking goals or milking free kicks to ensure the future security of their families, not “for fun”.

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Moreover, saying a particular player is performing a certain on-field feat so often that it’s “for fun” implies that when the other players do it, they’re NOT having fun. Yet if anything, it’s the other way around.

Josh Addo-Carr, for example, scores tries so often that it’s entirely possible it’s become a bit mundane for him. On the other hand, Christian Welch does it so rarely that when it does happen, it must be an enormous thrill.

There’s no way any of Steve Smith’s centuries has been as much fun for him as Jason Gillespie’s 201 in Bangladesh was for him. Yet it’s the high-frequency achiever who is assigned the “for fun” phrasing.

Steve Smith celebrates a century

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Frankly, none of it makes any sense, and the fact commentators can’t go half an hour without saying it is intolerable. Knock it on the head, please.

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Secondly, stop coming up with new terminology. Cricket commentators are the worst for this. There was a time when a ball was a ball, and sometimes a delivery, and if it was really good maybe a jaffa.

But now it might also be a “seed”, or a “cherry” – and the latter is especially problematic because “cherry” was already a different thing.

The basic point is the new terms are superfluous. We didn’t need more synonyms for “ball” any more than we needed the word “shape” to suddenly be used as a descriptor for every element of play.

Thirdly, understand that there is only one of each player. You know what a good team Richmond is? You know, with the Martins, and the Cotchins, and the Riewoldts, and the Lynches.

Well, NO. They have Martin, and Cotchin, and Riewoldt, and Lynch. You see? ONE OF EACH.

The Tigers celebrate with the premiership cup after winning the 2020 AFL Grand Final

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Something simply must be done about the modern plague of commentators referring to individual players in the plural. It happens across all sports, and it’s revolting in all of them.

Let us be clear: the Indian cricket team isn’t strong because of the Kohlis, the Ashwins and the Pants. The Penrith Panthers aren’t topping the ladder due to the good form of the Clearys, the Crichtons and the Kikaus.

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The Melbourne Storm, on the other hand, are getting a lot of benefit out of the Smiths, and the Roosters the Morrises. But you might’ve spotted the difference there.

The solution is quite simple: if a player is one person, refer to him or her as one person. If there is more than one with the same name, they can be referred to in the plural. You know… like, how people talk. Just talk how people talk. Just TRY, for god’s sake.

Fourthly, look at what happened, and then say what happened. This means, for example, that if you’re calling a rugby league or rugby union game, and a player throws the ball forward, say, “that pass was forward”. If you’re calling an Australian rules football game, and a player throws the ball instead of handballing it, say, “that was a throw”.

Brian Taylor

(Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

If a player hits another player in the head, say, “he hit him in the head” – and NOT, I stress, “There was nothing in that”.

It’s possible that the cause of commentators saying what actually happened in front of their eyes would be advanced by stricter adherence to the fifth hint, to wit:

Do not fall for the rumour that your job is to socialise with friends. A commentator is in the commentary box to commentate. That is, to provide descriptive and analytical comment on the sporting event taking place at the time.

This means that among the very many tasks which a commentator is NOT there to perform can be numbered: reminiscing about old times; trading obscure in-jokes about one’s colleagues; discussing what you had for dinner last night; providing opinions on recent cinematic releases; describing and/or mocking the fashion choices of other inhabitants of the box; or describing for the tenth time something that happened five minutes ago, such that what’s happening now goes completely unnoticed.

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Got any more advice for commentators? Put it in the comments!

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