Harry Kane Is Wrong Pundits Should Not Be Uncritical Cheerleaders For England Team

    Harry Kane Is Wrong Pundits Should Not Be Uncritical Cheerleaders For England Team

    (MENAFN- The Conversation)

    Those were the words of England captain Harry Kane, responding to pundits’ criticism of his side’s lacklustre opening performances at Euro 2024.

    Kane was being asked during a press conference to comment on a particular critique made by BBC host Gary Lineker, who described England’s group stage display against Denmark as“shit” on his podcast The Rest is football .

    Lineker’s comment, Kane’s subsequent response , and the furore that surrounded it have created a fascinating melodrama which brings the role of the media – player-pundits, journalists and broadcasters – into focus when covering their own national teams.

    Lineker may have now changed his tune since England’s last-minute win against Slovakia, but the spat raises some interesting questions about what we expect from our media when it comes to covering teams and athletes that hail from the same nation that they do.

    Do we want our pundits and commentators to drape themselves in the flag and simply be cheerleaders at the World Cup, Euros and Olympics? Or do we expect them to be honest, critical and even scathing when – as with England’s first few games at Euro 2024 – performances on the pitch leave much to be desired .

    Kane made the reasonable argument that, knowing how difficult it is to succeed at international tournaments and given the immense pressure placed on England, ex-players such as Lineker should choose their words carefully .“Everyone has their opinion, but the bottom line is we have not won anything as a nation for a long, long time. A lot of these players were part of that as well, so they know how tough it is,” said Kane.

    Aside from the fact that England’s women’s team won the Euros in 2022, it also ignores the fundamental role of sports media, which is to offer an accurate assessment of play – including praise and criticism when justified.

    Audiences expect a certain degree of bias from pundits when talking about their fellow countrymen and women. But to blindly ignore the realities of poor performance because of a perceived responsibility as an ex-player is irrational.

    Telling it like it is

    Academics who study sports media have found that audiences have different expectations for what they want from pundits. But viewers wish to see lively TV discussions about sport which are engaging, thought-provoking, and above all, entertaining.

    Former England players Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have perfected the craft on Sky Sports in recent years. They succeed in a mixture of honest insights informed by their own careers as players, detailed tactical analysis and good-natured humour. The pair have helped elevate the standard of punditry to a new level over the last decade.

    However, the craft of punditry takes on a different dimension during international tournaments such as World Cups and European Championships. It brings into focus the difficult balancing act of commenting on national team performances: just how praiseworthy, cynical, patriotic, or critical should pundits on BBC or ITV be?

    Being a pundit is rather easy when things are going well. But as has often been the case with England, when the team is performing poorly, the role is significantly trickier . Gary Lineker explained this dilemma on his podcast last week.

    These reflections demonstrate why Lineker is an exemplary broadcaster who understands the intricacies of his role on the BBC. Naturally, players like Harry Kane feel hurt by criticism of his team’s performances. But players must also appreciate that it is not the media’s role to be unquestioning cheerleaders.

    To do so would be a dereliction of duty by pundits, journalists and broadcasters. Rather, when it comes to“responsibility”, the media’s primary obligation is always to the audience. Lineker himself echoed this point on his podcast:“Could you imagine if we went on TV and said: ‘I thought they played really well.’ We would be lying!”

    Sport is often viewed as trivial by its detractors, but the core journalistic duties towards readers, viewers and listeners apply equally in sport as they do to politics and current affairs. As Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once informed a pack of journalists:“Your job is to tell the truth!”

    The back-and-forth between Kane and Lineker has been a healthy demonstration of the media’s role in covering sport. It serves to remind us that sports reporting and broadcasting exist to give balanced coverage.

    “We all want to win a major tournament,” Kane said at his press conference , before adding his opinion about the role of pundits covering England:“Being as helpful as they can and building the lads up with confidence would be a much better way of going about it.”

    Jude Bellingham proves England critics wrong in the 95th minute against Slovakia.
    AP / Alamy

    While it would be naive to suggest that all journalists, broadcasters and pundits are entirely impartial at all times , Kane is wrong to suggest it should be the role of the media“to be helpful” for the teams they cover.

    Teams can (and always will) use media criticism as motivation to prove the pundits wrong. Doubtless this was the case with England’s dramatic extra-time victory against Slovakia. Having scored a heroic 95th minute overhead kick to equalise, Jude Bellingham said the media“talks a lot of rubbish” and that it’s“nice when you can deliver and give them a little bit back”.

    The reaction to England’s performances at Euro 2024 has underscored the importance of honest punditry which is not afraid to be critical, as long as this criticism is fair and honest.

    • Gary Lineker

    • Harry Kane

    • Give me perspective

    • Euro 2024

    The Conversation


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