MOHAMMED Qasem is on a mission. He is the leader who has brought fresh ideas to the International Sport Press Association (AIPS) Asia after it went into sleep mode as a rather redundant body.
The Bahraini official, along with his team of relatively young office-bearers, rejuvenated the continental organisation of sports journalists with a spate of activities.
Qasem was confidence personified as he spoke to Doha Stadium Plus about his mission, vision, challenges and future plans.
You’re one of the leading sports journalists in the region, quite busy with your work. What prompted you to take up the presidency of AIPS Asia?
After participating in the AIPS Asia congress in South Korea in 2014, I noticed that the body was in great need of a fresh leadership. Buoyed by the support of Faisal Al Qinai, AIPS Asia’s Honorary President whom I succeeded, I decided to run for the post of president after consulting with several members of the organisation. Their support helped me win the election.
AIPS Asia has become a more vibrant organisation after you became its president. Your comments...
I believe AIPS Asia must be a very effective organisation due to the huge number of activities taking place across the continent. Such events should be covered extensively by media in a professional manner. The congress was held every two years, but we decided to implement a four-year plan and, accordingly, the General Assembly and Executive Committee decided to hold it annually. Thus we would be able to evaluate all our activities more often and get feedback from members.
How did you manage to revive the virtually-defunct sports journalists’ associations in some Asian countries?
The process of rejuvenating such associations began through two simple ways — proper attention and effective communication. We worked hard last year and started witnessing a different approach among all AIPS Asia members.
It came as a result of our daily outreach, continuous support and recption to their ideas other than financial and technical backing to those countries that expressed desire to host a number of national and international events. We, at AIPS Asia, have set a great agenda, in which we’ll apply transparency. We promise that the coming year will be better.
AIPS Asia has widened its horizon by hosting its executive committee meetings and other functions in countries like Uzbekistan and Nepal. Your comments...
It’s very important for us to have some diversity. By helping all member countries to hold such events and activities, we’re actually giving them an opportunity.
We’ve witnessed Uzbekistan hosting one of the AIPS Asia events and Nepal organising the executive committee meeting. Malaysia played host to the inaugural workshop for women sports journalists while Hong Kong is going to organise a youth journalists’ forum. We also have plans to have some activities in India and Pakistan.
Some people feel that AIPS Asia is more active than its world body...
AIPS Asia is going through a period of transformation, so we must be putting in a lot of efforts in order to strengthen the trust between us and the media community. Asian sports journalists have suffered much from neglect and marginalisation.
It’s time to provide the best conditions for all those working in sports media across the continent and we’re keen to maintain the standards in future. With regard to our friends in the media world, I believe they’re trying their best by working within the available budgets. Their real problem is a lack of financial support, but I’m sure they’ve found several ways to solve such issues.
Do you think AIPS is living up to the expectations of sports journalists worldwide?
AIPS, under the leadership of Gianni Merlo, has gone through a tremendous change. We can obviously state that the world body has built a remarkable reputation and is fulfilling most of its duties towards sports media all over the world even without adequate financial support.
Are they doing enough to protect the rights of journalists?
Certainly, AIPS will never ever hesitate to protect and defend the rights of sports journalists all over the world, provided their claims are based on just causes. It’s one of the main duties and obligations of the world body towards people working in sports media. It’s putting in its best efforts in terms of preserving the rights of all journalists across the world.
Don’t you think the fee AIPS charges for its annual membership card is slightly on the higher side, especially for journalists who aren’t well paid?
In my opinion, the annual membership fee, which is approximately $20, is a reasonable and acceptable amount, if we take into consideration the magnitude of our responsibilities, in addition to the various services and financial support being extended to continental bodies and associations.
Are you happy with the style of functioning of Merlo?
Merlo is a veteran journalist and distinguished figure. AIPS, under his wise leadership, has made massive progress and he’s abiding by the regulations with regard to organisational matters.
Merlo has been the president since 2005. Don’t you think there should be a term limit for office-bearers, especially when we advocate such measures for various international sports federations?
First of all, I would like to salute Merlo for his achievements. Regarding the term limit, I suppose this shouldn’t be the central issue. The most fundamental question, in my opinion, should be concerning his achievements.
The AIPS General Assembly and member countries are the only parties that’ve the authority to judge the performance of the president, and I believe Merlo has proved his ability. It mustn’t be measured with the number of years he has presided over the organisation. On the contrary, we should evaluate his achievements and future planning in addition to the self-assessment that all leaders should apply throughout their term/terms.
Do you agree with me if I say new people will bring new ideas, as you’ve proved at AIPS Asia?
Absolutely. Young people and new leaderships bring new ideas, and I must say we, at the AIPS Asia, have believed in this. We’re in great need of them in order to develop our organisations. This doesn’t in any way mean we’re sidelining veterans.
Will you consider running for the AIPS president’s post in the next elections?
In fact, I’m not willing to run for the position of AIPS or any other body. I’ve recently obtained the trust of my friends to preside the Asian body. In addition, I do hold a position in the parent body as one of its vice-presidents. My main aim at present is to work hand in hand with AIPS and gain more experience. The AIPS is steadily moving towards further growth on various fronts.
What’re the major challenges faced by Asian sports journalists?
Asian sports journalists face several challenges such as the lack of funding and support provided by relevant authorities.
Another challenge is the difficulty for Asian journalists in getting accreditation to cover major tournaments, especially with the limited space provided to them. And I assure you that AIPS Asia would spare no effort to deal with such problems and try to find appropriate solutions.
How do you rate sports journalism in Gulf countries?
It’s definitely distinctive and sophisticated. The GCC countries continue to provide open space for sports media, both written and digital, with no limitations. Sports journalism is flourishing through the continuous support provided by relevant authorities.
Do you believe Arab journalists are fully professional? What do they lack?
Of course, yes. Most of them are professionals. On the other hand, there’re certain issues, like prejudice and fanaticism. We shouldn’t allow such an attitude to affect our abilities to judge certain issues. We must always uphold values.
Don’t you think there’s a lack of transparency among sports administrators and officials in Asia?
In my opinion, the transparency issue is related to the type of sports journalist and his ability to find the information through his sources. In this matter, we can’t blame sports administrators or the authorities. The only means is through exposing the reasons for such reticence and disclosing the names of people who behave like that.
Do you agree modern-day journalists need to be better informed than their predecessors a decade ago, especially with more and more sports disciplines getting popular?
No, I don’t agree with you that young sports journalists need such procedures. On the contrary, I do believe the new sports journalists have contributed in a number of developments through their professional work and creativity in several aspects. That has actually helped in attracting the common viewer to follow the sports updates on a daily basis. I emphasise on the importance of supporting the new generation by providing a positive work environment through transparency.
What’lI be your reaction if I say the impact of social media is adding more pressure on journalists?
Yes, I totally agree. Social media is putting sports journalism under tremendous pressure, but I would like to add that a professional journalist who is 100 per cent sure of his work, provided that it’s realistic and not misleading, should persist with it.
With the electronic and digital media engaged in a ‘breaking-story race’, print media can still be more accurate and objective. Do you agree?
Obviously, the print media is the cornerstone, I agree, although as you’ve mentioned, the electronic and digital media have the privilege to the ‘breaking-story race’. But we’re still eager to examine all the details in our daily newspaper.
A vast majority of sports journalists working with English-language publications in the Gulf are
expatriates. Do you have any plans to set up a training institute for nationals?
We do value the importance of English-language publications in the GCC as well as West Asian countries. Having a good command over English is very important for sports journalists across Asia. As of now, AIPS Asia isn’t planning to establish any institute due to its regional dimensions.
However, we’re looking to implement several plans with regard to the development of sports journalists in various fields. Holding a number of English courses for mediapersons is actually one of our main concerns.