The 1st AIPS World e-Conference held on July 2 left a permanent mark in the sports media environment. Journalists from more than 130 countries gathered on the virtual stage to discuss about the future of our profession and independence in the new reality shaped by the pandemic.
What on the one side was intended to be an historical recurrence, with AIPS celebrating the World Sports Journalists Day and its 96th anniversary, marked on the other a new chapter for the sports media community in the digital era.
During his overture, President of AIPS Gianni Merlo placed the vast audience before the rugged and uncertain path that sports journalism has to face in the post-Covid world. According to him, the current situation calls for a new vision able to create solutions that allow journalism to survive and face the different reality without giving up its values.
President Merlo wisely underlined the problem of accessing the sources, which are the lifeblood for journalism but have become more and more difficult to reach, either for material or for more unclear reasons. Many journalists, in fact, have been brought to their knees by salary cuts and the dramatic deterioration of their working conditions. Simultaneously, the situation of emergency has compressed the space for freedom of press, whose independence and credibility risk being heavily affected without continuous investments to enforce our culture.
Here is the speech through which Gianni Merlo addressed the audience in the opening of the e-Conference:
Dear Colleagues,
We are here to celebrate the 96th anniversary of our association in one of the most difficult moments in the history of mankind. In 1924 the journalists, who founded AIPS, have had a vision. Now we are facing the worst possible scenario for our work, but we must have a new vision for the future to continue the path of modernization and defense of our profession that our predecessors had started. It is not easy, but we must study new solutions.
I experienced the lockdown for Covid-19 in a Red Zone. From my window I could see the deserted streets with the silence broken only by the ambulance sirens that were sending you a message of fear. From news on social media I was informed that friends of youth were killed by this cursed coronavirus. Families have not seen them since hospitalization. Funerals were prohibited. Some families received an urn with ashes to cry on at home. The death toll was increasing day by day, worse than in war. After two months the good news was that “yesterday there were only 100 dead”… Terrible. Now we see the end of the tunnel, we hope, but the future is not certain.
During that terrible period, we continued to work and we have also launched new initiatives for young colleagues such as the eCollege, because only an investment in culture can create the conditions for a better future and reconstruction. We were struck by the enthusiasm of young colleagues, their desire to learn, to defend the independence of our profession.
Racism has returned to the surface and we will continue our battle against all discrimination. After this appointment, we will launch a seminar on 21 July dedicated to women, still too ghettoized in our profession. The panel colleagues will offer us a picture of what has happened and possible solutions for the reconstruction.
Now the big problem is access to sources. Covid-19 has dramatically changed working conditions. The virus brought us to our knees. Many colleagues have lost their jobs, others have seen their wages cut in half, newspapers and websites have closed. The effect of the virus has been devastating.
There is now a timid awakening in Europe, but the rebirth is still far away. Sports are still limited, so our live work is also limited. During the lockdown period, newspapers, websites, radios and televisions were equipped to revisit the story, they did an excellent, quality job. But now we must continue to maintain quality and to do this we need to be able to have access to the sources, which the lockdown has made even more problematic.
Federations, clubs and various sports organizations have closed our accesses at the beginning of the pandemic justly for security reasons, but now that governments are reopening it is necessary to review many accreditation criteria.
We respect security reasons, but when we make our legitimate requests to return to work with access to sources and we are told that certain access bans are placed to defend the privacy of athletes or managers, we cannot believe this excuse. There are those who, with privacy as an excuse, intend to hide unclear plans and operations. For this reason, since everyone in the sports world rightly says that athletes and their needs must be put at the center, we ask to be able to discuss with them directly the rules to be followed without the filter of agents or sports managers. No federation has ever offered us this opportunity and the time has come to open a new chapter. Correct access to sources is the only way to combat corruption, match fixing, manipulation of results and doping.
We must all work together to build a new future. Of course, perhaps the sporting reality will be a little different, compared to what we have experienced in the past, but it represents the new reality and we must adapt, as has happened in every process of evolution in history. The important thing is that the basic principles of sport such as transparency and credibility are the same, because they are immune to any virus.
 AIPS Media