What is sportswriting, anyway?

“Darren knew he’d be praised after the match for his unselfish play ( – That’s the Liverpool way, lads) but he’d given the ball to Kenny because he couldn’t be bothered bringing it any further himself. He heard the ironic cheer. They’d scored again; an Anto Brennan diving header that he hadn’t really needed to dive for.”
– Roddy Doyle, The Van.



– D’ya see that debate last week? said Sophie, turning the lamb chops. Cricket on in the background.
– Which one? said Dora, handful of Smith’s crisps; poised.
– The enlightenment one.
– Ahh, sport versus art. The true path to enlightenment.
– That’s it.
– Yeah, I read about it.


– Whad’ya think?
– Art won, said Dora. She’s finishing the handful of chips; taking a stubby of Coopers Red. Twists the top off.
– Well I saw that. But I reckon it’s not right.
– Whad’ya mean? Art won fair and square.
– Oh, yeah. That’s fine. But what’s sportswriting anyway?
– Huh?
– Well it’s not sport, is it? Isn’t it art?
– Come again? Dora said, putting the empty plate down. That’s better. One hand for the stubby, one for the chips.



– Well, is writing artful? said Sophie, squinting through the barbeque smoke. Flames leaping through the grill. These one day games are losing any charm they once had.
– Ahh, it can be.
– Yeah. Good answer.
– Thanks.


– So writing can be artful.
– Yeah, said Dora, collecting another handful of the chips. Crisps the poms would say.
– And sportswriting is a type of writing.
– Yeah.
– So it follows that sportswriting can be artful, said Sophie, impressing herself with her logic while coincidentally displaying aplomb at the barbeque.
– Sure. I’d say to be good, I mean to be beyond facts and figures reporting, the best sportswriting is artful.
– Why?
– Ahh, it takes you places.


– Right. So good sportswriting is an art, said Sophie, grabbing a fork. She holds a chop in place, slices it with the sharp edge of the bar-b-mate. A couple more minutes. Is it possible to be totally sick of J Brayshaw, M Slater, I Healy and it still be November?
– I’d say so.
– Me too. But then why aren’t sportswriters seen that way?
– Ahh. A mystery.
– No really, why?


– Hmm. I reckon it’s the bread and circuses effect, says Dora, resting her hand on her hip now, gazing into the low sky. Sunset blazes yet again.
– How’s that?
– You know. The Romans. The idea of using bread and circuses as distractions to the populace. Using them to divert attention away from important things. So as to avoid organized rebellion and revolution.
– Yeah.
– Yeah, well I reckon sport is seen as a distraction from the main events of life.
– You’re probably right there.


– But, if good sportswriting, beyond the reporting of facts and figures, is dismissed as irrelevant to real life, why isn’t fiction writing dismissed even more quickly? said Sophie, tearing off a sheet of paper towel; placing it on a plate. Logic seemingly coursing through her veins. This is how Socrates must have felt.
– Ahh, that’s easy. Good fiction allows us to live through a character. Takes us places. Gives us room to empathise.
– Go on.
– Yeah. It’s applicable to life. Life lessons.


– Hmm. Good sportswriting does that, too, said Sophie, lifting the chops from the grill, placing them on the paper towel. A whole summer still to come. A World Cup, too. Is saturation a thing?


– Hmm. You’re right, said Dora, shovelling another handful of the potato chips in.
– I know I’m right.
– Yeah. Alright. So if sportswriting is an art, then sportswriters are artists.
– That’s what I think, said Sophie, happy to have convincingly made her point.


– You know what I think? said Dora, throwing that mutant green chip into the red and gold kangaroo paw, coming into bloom.
– What?
– It’s time to eat.


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Sport and sports writing, however related, are two different things. Some would say the bast way to experience a sporting moment/event/contest is to be there. How do you describe the Federer backhand played amid a rally of exquisite shots. Or the heights to which that rally reached. It’s significance to the game, set, match, tournament, year, career, sporting history, human history. Whatever its qualities/characteristics the best experience is to see it, experience it, feel it. Whatever.

    However, I also get a lift from reading about it – whatever the genre, or seeing a brilliant photograph of it. etc

    There is the practical purpose that sportswriting serves: not everyone has seen it or even can see it. There is also the reminder of it in a way that has you nodding your head. But there is also the worth of the writing itself. The writing has its own quiddity (as poet Les Murray would say).

    If I am contemplative, and if I am lifted by good writing, then I will value good writing which includes good sports writing. If sport provides the language of my experience – including my everyday experience – then I will crave/yearn for writing which facilitates that.

    I am challenged by how to represent sport in the written form. Some things are beyond my cpaacity. Describing a Gary Ablett snr moment is an elusivetask. But if I invoke G Ablett as part of a simile/metaphor/image people will know what I mean. ‘As explosive as Gary Ablett snr” has currency.

    ER, I think this is a really interesting subject. I feel no need to compare. The debate the other night was a bit of fun. I think that’s how our side saw it. Did people think I was serious when I asked the question “What does Michelangelo have that Fev hasn’t got?” Although…the parabola of Fev’s drop kick…and so on?

  2. G’Day ER,

    It’s very interesting to read and I didn’t have such points of views that Dora had.

    She reckons that fictions can be life lessons, but I think sport writing can be life lessons. As I wrote in an article here, St Kilda players’ loyalty and striving for a flag are great and I want to adopt in my daily life to achieve my big life goals including moving and settling down in Australia.

    Also we can see different things in sport writing to what we have missed at sport games watching live.

    I will write my perceptions of sports and art later this week.

    Thanks or sharing your story!


  3. Great topic DW. I think good writing is good writing is good writing.

    Remember a book written some years ago called “Longitude”? It told the story of how a clockmaker solved the problem of keeping time at sea and thereby determining longitude – really important for sailors. This hardly sounds like a riveting subject matter, but it was a brilliant book, brilliantly written.

    Brilliant sports writing is brilliant writing. If sport is a distraction then sports writing is a very welcome distraction.

    One of the most magnificent things I’ve ever read was “How to be a Cartoonist”; an article by Michael Leunig. Superb writing, but not a topic that immediately leaps to mind.

  4. G’day JTH, Yoshi, Dips,
    Dora, Sophie.
    Well I love it.
    Give me a wandering, weaving, soaring sporting contest, or a wandering, weaving, soaring story (of any kind).
    “The journey is the thing.”
    And yep, JTH, I certainly thought the debate came across in good humour.

  5. Provocative topic David. It’s always good to ruminate upon these things. I know it’s possibly a narrow and personal view, but for me if a piece of sportswriting is limited to the field or arena of contest then I’m probably going to be disappointed. Surely the contest isn’t decontextualised; it must exist in a number of personal, social and political situations, so I want these to be part of the narrative.

    I want to visit places unexpected.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Interesting topic , OBP and thoughtful comments above also . I want a article or book to give you a experience beyond the obvious stats , human nature too that once you discover a author you like you are generally going to read the majority and look favorably what ever the subject . The most obvious example for me was geez I better have a look at a Harry Potter book now I have re read all of them and think , J K Rowling is a amazing author

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    My sister came back from living in England for 3 years nearly 10 years ago. She still calls chips ‘crisps’. Every bit as annoying as J Brayshaw, M Slater and I Healy’s commentary.

  8. I’m with Dips, ER. Good writing is good writing. Good story telling is good story telling.
    Because of my interests, upbringing and culture (as with all Knackers) I find sport particularly fertile territory.
    Its my home. My people. My dreaming of heroism and success that only occasionally was – but the fire burns bright yet.
    But I have other dreamings and other stories removed from the sporting arena – its just that it is common ground for so many – its easier to share.
    And that’s what its all about – living many lives; and bigger lives than the one I have – by sharing from others table and offering my own crumbs.

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