BRUSSELS, June 24, 2013 - Sportspress .be, the Belgian Professional Sportswriters’ Association, celebrated its centenary with a gala evening in the Plaza Hotel in Brussels on June 13, 2013. The Belgian Association was founded in Brussels on June 13, 1913, not far from the Plaza Hotel, so the event was a fitting tribute. IOC president Dr Jacques Rogge, who is serving the final months of his term, was the main speaker. Dr Rogge held a remarkably personal speech, in which he valued the role of the press.
“I read my bible every morning. And I don’t mean the Old or the New Testament, but sports daily ‘L’Equipe’, the most complete publication in French in my area of expertise. And I always start by reading the final page, because that’s where I can find the sports that don’t get much attention from mainstream media. And even though the future is said to be digital, I still cherish my paper copy. When I was a child, I remember how I was ready every day at 6 pm to buy the special Tour de France edition of Flemish daily ‘Het Volk’, with all the news and results of that day’s stage in the Tour. I also remember how in 1954, when I was only twelve years old, I went into a bar to watch the World Cup final between West Germany and Hungary.
And in 1960, I was captivated by the images of Australian athlete Herb Elliot. Watching him made me want to compete at the Olympics myself. It is thanks to the sports press and the message they spread that some 4 billion people watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The London Games reached a combined audience of 40 billion viewers. And thanks to the introduction of new events such as snowboarding or BMX, we are also gaining a foothold in the vital 12-24 age category.
The Olympic movement has also had to adapt to major evolutions in the media landscape. The gatekeepers we used to have – such as EBU or NBC, who acquired all rights – are a thing of the past. We are now dealing with companies that acquire only part of the available media rights. We are now dealing with 130 companies, as opposed to just 25 in the past. And yet, audience figures are up by 20%, and our income has increased even more. But there is another factor to consider. Thanks to social media, athletes and their entourage are also producing information, and they have, in a way, become journalists. We have introduced rules, because the IOC feels there needs to be a balance between journalists and athletes. The IOC wants to defend and to protect your occupation.
I want to conclude on a personal note. As you know, my term as IOC president finishes in three months’ time. This gala presents me with a fantastic opportunity to thank you for a wonderful cooperation between the press and myself, be it as an athlete, chef de mission, president of the Belgian Olympic Committee or the IOC. I have always taken care of your needs, and in return, you have always given me a fair treatment, for which I would like to thank you.”
In his speech, David Naert, president of Sportspress.be, stressed the passion of sports journalists:
“In the course of a century, we have not only witnessed a technological evolution, but also one in content. Nearly one hundred years ago, the editor in chief of ‘La Dernière Heure’ had this to say after a few lines about sport had appeared in the paper:
We are a serious newspaper. We don’t care about sport. Let’s not take our readers for fools, sport is for imbeciles.
How times have changed! Sports journalists produce lots of content. Tens of pages have to be filled, day after day. Too many pages no doubt, by too few journalists. But still they do it. With a lot of passion and expertise!
Even after a century, this association still encounters new problems in the press tribunes, the mixed zones etc. But we are not complaining, that’s what we are here for. And whatever we do, we will always act in partnership with the sports federations. In our view, that is the only way to achieve results.
However, if Sportspress.be wishes to celebrate its 200th anniversary on June 13, 2113, it will only be able to do so with the support of its members. And I would like especially like to invite our younger members to take up a role in our association."
President Gianni Merlo noted that Belgium as one of the core founders of AIPS.
"Belgium played a key role in the creation of AIPS almost ninety years ago in July of 1924. It was then that Victor Boin was one of the first to understand and identify the importance and the value of the creation of an association of sports journalists and the role such an association would play in the panorama of the Olympic world and of sport in general."
Other speakers included football summarizer Jan Mulder and former Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc (also a former cyclist and journalist). The speeches were followed by a reception and a dinner, attended amongst others by representatives of the sports press associations of France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK.