View from the top: Mihir Bose, sports editor, BBC

One year into his role as the BBC’s first sports editor, Mihir Bose has already toughened up the broadcaster’s sports reporting. David Quainton talks to him about bungs, business and the increasing gap between sportspeople and journalists.

Mihir Bose
Mihir Bose

When you are the only Indian on the train and a mob of racist football fans threatens to remove your limbs without offering even the slightest anaesthetic, it is best to make yourself scarce.

That is, unless you are on a packed carriage heading back from a match, in which case you can't, and instead you simply pray it gets to the station before things start to turn nasty.

In 1980, India-born Mihir Bose, now the BBC's sports editor, received what he calls ‘a good duffing up', before the train finally pulled in and a phalanx of bobbies rescued him from the melée.

‘It took some time before I travelled on a train again,' admits 60-year-old Bose. ‘But it certainly didn't put me off sports journalism.'

During his time on The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, Bose was the man credited with the evolution of sports coverage from stories about injuries and results, to ones examining sport as a business. Former Daily Telegraph sports editor David Welch describes Bose's insider knowledge as ‘unsurpassed', enabling him to break many famous sporting scoops over the past 20 years.

Mihir BoseBose actually broke one of the first major football ‘bung' stories, involving eventual England manager Terry Venables. As a res­ult, a major inquiry was launched by the Football Association that lasted for five years, the outcome of which was largely inconclusive.

He is well placed then, after a year in his role at the Beeb, to offer his views on the changing face of journalists' relationships with PROs, and the evolution of sport reporting in the UK.

‘The business of sport hit the radar around 1990,' argues Bose. ‘There were very few sports journalists with business knowledge, so I picked up some great stories because I didn't mind reading a few figures.'

Those ‘few figures' led to the discovery that one former manager ‘liked receiving bungs in a motorway service station', and the fact that a football player's transfer rarely amounts to the figure that gets quoted in newspapers.

In the immediate years after Robert Maxwell's demise in 1991 the British sporting world became infinitely more businesslike. Football's Premier League was founded, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster Sky negotiated exclusive football rights and rugby union turned professional.

The extra baggage of commercialism may have increased players' wages across all sports (including Bose's beloved cricket), but he is quick to point out it also diminished journalists' access to sporting stars.

‘Agents and PR people are demanding more and more and offering you [the journalist] less and less,' says Bose. ‘A player views his career as a finite thing, and therefore an expensive commodity, so he wants to make the most of his career while it lasts.'

The result is that journalists and players are becoming increasingly distant. And the same can be said of clubs.

‘As the top clubs become more profess­ional they are putting in more robust press offices,' says Bose. ‘But these are sometimes too robust. Heavyweight people want to control the process but it can often make the story worse.'

In spite of his marriage to a successful PRO (more on that later), Bose is perfectly happy to throw his weight around when faced with a recalcitrant press officer.

One top PRO at a Premiership football club describes Bose as being ‘ruthless' in pursuit of a story. Another agrees, warning: ‘Bose does not often want to befriend the gatekeeper, but he will be fair in his dealings with you.'

Although frustrated by the increase in ‘gatekeepers', Bose does think that there are many good PROs working within the sporting arena.

‘The best, I find, are those that have either moved from journalism into PR, or those that are within the financial agencies. In the financial sector I used to find myself talking to loads of great guys who knew a lot about football but had no contact with the sport. Now, with big money deals and football clubs changing hands, they do. They are generally excellent to work with.'

Bose knows all about financial PR. His wife is financial PR specialist Caroline Cecil, who he met at journalist hot spot the Reform Club. They reside in a rather splendid house in Shepherds Bush, conveniently close to Bose's current employers. Bose has an office on the top floor and it contains swathes of cricket, football, sport and Indian texts, as well as a smattering of his 24 published books.

‘In my time the publishing world has changed dramatically,' says Bose. ‘The Times used to have much less room for sport. Around 20 to 30 per cent of the stories I produced made the paper, so there was a great level of quality control. With websites and pages and pages of sports space within every single newspaper, every story gets an airing somewhere. The filter has gone.'

At the BBC Bose is charged with professionalising an output that has, in the past, been known for repeating sporting news stories rather than breaking them. An old BBC tale refers to a former news editor who dem­anded every story had to come from two sources before it was published. So journalists would leak stories to Reuters and then suggest that because Reuters had it, and they did too, then it qualified for publication.

‘The story might not be true, but it's an attitude I wanted to change,' says Bose. ‘Ghandi wouldn't believe his mother had died until he had heard it from the BBC. It's an incredible organisation. I want to maintain its high standards.'

Looking at his imposing CV and impressive haul of awards, it is worth reflecting that Bose nearly did not make it as a journalist after pressure from his parents to ‘make some decent money' in accountancy.

‘Some people tell you Indian culture is all about spirituality,' he laughs ‘Hogwash. Indians can be the most materialistic people in the world.'

After a few years toeing the family line -and before the aforementioned narrow esc­ape from racist football hooligans - a frustrated Bose made the big leap into a fully-fledged journalistic career.
Looking back, he is satisfied he made the right choice.

‘Everything is decided these days. Sport gives you a link, makes you part of a family you never knew existed. Now that all of the myth and mystery that our ancestors built the world upon has gone, sport offers you the chance to see miracles happen. How can you not get excited about that?'

Perhaps Indian culture can be materialistic, but for this battle-hardened sports hack, a little of its spiritual side still shines through.

About Mihir Bose
2007
Becomes the first BBC sports editor

1999
Wins ‘Sports News Reporter of the Year' at the Sport England and Sports Writers' Association awards

1995
Moves to The Daily Telegraph to specialise in investigative sports reporting

1994
Bose's study of sports and apartheid, Sporting Colours, is runner-up in the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award

1990
Bose's History of Indian Cricket wins the prestigious Cricket Society Literary Award - the first book by an Indian writer to do so

1975
Begins one of many varied roles at The Sunday Times

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