Memories from Athens to Beijing

This year, Passion for Sport is looking back at 25 years of broadcasting from major sporting events. The mission of Passion for Sport is to use media to introduce sports fans to Jesus. This started out as producing radio programmes but today also includes content for social media and online platforms as well.

Passion for Sport media teams at major sporting events provide reports, interviews and special interest pieces such as insights into the local culture and particularly what followers of Jesus are doing to share their faith. The team can often be made up of a mix of nationalities, producing programmes in different languages for different broadcast partners. This can bring its challenges along with technical and practical issues.

Clayton Bjelan broadcasts from his ironing board!

Clayton Bjelan broadcasts from his ironing board!

Clayton Bjelan from Australia remembers joining the media team for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. They were all living and working in a tiny apartment, resulting in Clayton broadcasting from an ironing board!

Part of Clayton’s role involved doing phone pieces for nine radio stations back home starting at 4:30 in the morning - much to the ‘delight’ of the others still trying to sleep. “My now infamous start to each break - “Live from Beijing!” – haunts many a person’s dreams, I’m sure,” he surmises.

Andy Atkinson from the UK was on the media team for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. He remembers: “We were going to a country where people have not seen a lot of people with a disability. While we were there everyone treated me like royalty. They were asking if I needed help or if they could help me. As an independent person, I found this very heard to deal with.”

This wasn’t Andy’s first experience of the Passion for Sport media team as he had previously raised his own funds to join the team reporting from the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. Also on the team for the first time was Pete Ellis (below left) who remembers:

“A team of five of us, three of whom were disabled, took on the challenge of getting around the often congested and not very well maintained streets of the city with a wheelchair and prosthetic limbs. We were based in a church building in Athens with a makeshift shower block, camp beds in Sunday school rooms and lots of stairs! Each morning we prayed together for the day’s events and trusted that God would lead us to the right people to interview.”

Unfortunately the Paralympic Games were not very well attended by the world’s media, however that gave the Passion for Sport media team more opportunities for access to venues and athletes. “Our journalists did a very professional job of getting on the court at the end of one particular basketball match to get some great interviews with the athletes, and photos alongside them with gold medals and victor’s headbands,” remembers Pete.

The 2004 Paralympic Games proved to be a life-changing experience for Andy (right). “After I came back from Athens, I was hooked on radio work and how God can reach people through radio. I volunteered for Christian radio producers HCJB (now Reach Beyond) in Bradford, working as an editor on their radio show. I did that for three years.”

It also made an impression on Pete: “Interviews from Paralympians are especially powerful because of the additional obstacles they have had to overcome in their lives as well as the hard work that any athlete has to put in to be the best in their sport. It was a great privilege to see them in action and to hear what they had to say.” 

'I grew so much in my faith'

Passion for Sport is looking back over 25 years of reporting from major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Fifa World Cup™, All Africa Games, the Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Championships to name just a few.

The Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 was the first major sporting event when a team of Christians worked together to produce radio programmes about sport with a Christian perspective. Passion for Sport grew out of this with its mission to use media to introduce sports fans to Jesus.

French language programme producer, Vivian Dinan (below left) looks back on his time in the media team at various events with joy and gratitude, saying: 

“Those who led the teams at these different events contributed a lot towards me being able to cherish those priceless moments . . . Their inspired leadership, their human relations approach and their professionalism made things easier, particularly when I had to go to bed very late because I had to upload reports and woke up early to attend events. I also appreciated the daily morning briefings, where we first listened to what God had to say to us through the sharing of the word by one of the team members and then take note of the tasks for the day.”

Taurai Manonge, a video cameraman who joined the team for a week during the London 2012 Olympics made a similar comment: 

“Working with other believers, sharing the faith and encouraging each other in the Lord, while enjoying one of the greatest sporting spectacles was indeed a prayer answered. I grew so much in my faith during that week and seeing the commitment and dedication of the other members who chose to serve God using their profession was a great testimony to me.”

Members of the media team have opportunities to interview top sportsmen and women, officials and fans but also the dignitaries attending the events. Vivian recalls such opportunities:

“I had the privilege at the London Olympics to interview Mr Francois Hollande, the French President. At the Beijing Olympics, I interviewed the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Sir Anerood Jugnauth. In Maputo, Mozambique I had the privilege to interview the Minister of Sport of Congo Brazzaville, Mr Léon-Alfred Opimbat. I also met and interviewed the former President of the IAAF, Mr Lamine Diack.”

As well as getting on with the job of reporting from the event and producing radio programmes, the times together as a team are special, and it seems Vivian has some memorable episodes:

Solomon Ashoms (left) and Vivian Dinan (right).

Solomon Ashoms (left) and Vivian Dinan (right).

“My time . . . allowed me also to work alongside some wonderful team mates. One of them is dear to my heart – Solomon Ashoms. He has always been my room-mate and also my driver! He drove me from Johannesburg, South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique, for the All Africa Games in 2012. A trip of four hours but which took us more than eight hours. My dear driver lost directions! I must admit the return trip was much better.

“Another team mate dear to me is Pedro Arias, our Spanish language reporter. Each time we were on the team, we had fun exploring together what we think was the best place to eat. In Beijing I guess we missed our target. I think we ate dog meat in one place!”

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Celebrating 25 years!

Summer 2017 marks 25 years since the radio partnership that grew into Passion for Sport reported from its first major sporting event, the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Since then Passion for Sport has reported from a variety of events including the Olympic and Paralympic Games, FIFA World Cup, All Africa Games, Commonwealth Games and the World Athletics Championship.

The media teams at each of these events have been made up from a variety of people, nationalities and skills. Some are staff, others volunteers or freelancers – many giving up their time and funding themselves to be involved. As a media team, they gather interviews from sportsmen and women, officials and fans, as well as local churches and Christians who view the events as outreach opportunities. The team produce programmes and then upload them to our dedicated website for broadcasters to access so they can use the material, as well as to our own website - www.planetsport.tv – for listeners to access online.

With now a quarter of a century of reporting from major sporting events, we asked some of those who have been in our media teams for their memories of their time with Passion for Sport, and over the next couple of weeks we will be sharing them with you.

Today Norman Brierley, a regular Passion for Sport reporter, looks back particularly on the All Africa Games.

“At the Africa Games, we had much easier access to athletes for interviews although technically we had greater difficulty in getting our recorded and live material back to the centre for distribution to stations.

A storm leaves the Velodrome roof in tatters at the All Africa Games in 2003.

A storm leaves the Velodrome roof in tatters at the All Africa Games in 2003.

“I remember well the Abuja, Nigeria All Africa Games in 2003 when the velodrome canvas awning was ripped apart one night by a devastating storm! We didn’t have internet access at our main centre of operations but just down the road there was a satellite link to the internet which we were able to use – when it worked.

“Nigerian roads are always full of people and vehicles and it was quite a task getting to the stadium each day. However, access into all venues, athletes and even on the sacred soil of the main stadium to celebrate the occasion was relatively easy. At the Maputo, Mozambique All Africa Games in 2011 journalists were actually surrounding the basketball court as all the seats in the auditorium were taken by spectators!”

Passion for Sport uses media to introduce sports fans to Jesus and Norman remembers when he first took hold of the evangelistic opportunity that sport broadcasting offers.

“My first introduction to using sport as a platform for spreading the gospel was at the India Ocean Games in Victoria, Seychelles in 1993 where Feba Radio started Creole broadcasts to Mauritius; we produced a nightly 30-minutes results-based programme with interviews.

“Then two years later came a much broader involvement by various groups, in using sport in Christian broadcasting, at the All Africa Games in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September 1995. I feel that Passion for Sport must have initially instigated this in some way. Several Christian organisations joined together, hosted by Feba Radio and in co-operation with the BBC, and were able to broadcast sports interviews and features over the Zimbabwe government radio stations in several local languages including English. We were also able to have a greater Africa-wide television outreach over CBN’s 700 Club.

“That was the beginning of an association with Passion for Sport over succeeding years at major sporting events such as further Africa Games, Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

“Reporting from an African sporting occasion is full of fun and incidents, and there seems to be a natural camaraderie and repartee between athlete and reporter. Many athletes would share their faith in Jesus in a very natural and convincing way and this was not only evident in their words but also by their faces.

“Our goal on every occasion is to obtain interviews with athletes who have ‘something to say’ from a spiritual perspective. When we are able to sit down with an athlete and dig a little deeper, beyond the sporting aspect of their lives, nuggets of gold are realised. This was my experience when interviewing the 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m gold medallist, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (right) from Jamaica. The ‘Pocket Rocket’ as she was known, bubbly and full of life expressed the joy of knowing her Saviour very clearly. This interview can be heard in the latest Planet Sport programme, following the announcement that she’ll be missing the World Championships this summer as she’s pregnant.

Passion for Sport has not only been introducing sports fans to Jesus through the testimonies of Christian athletes, it has also been challenging athletes themselves to think carefully about a lasting relationship with their Maker.”

By Norman Brierley