So what if you don’t speak the language? Learn the bloody names!

Sports commentators, in my opinion, occupy a very important position in the hierarchy of the full sports broadcasting spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are the sporting personality themselves, the athletes we plonk ourselves in front of our TV sets to watch. At the other end are the viewers, who do not have the luxury of time or place to be at the scene of the action. So sports commentators bridge this gap.
Normally the commentators simply vocalize the action we are seeing on the TV. The better ones backfill the viewers with information pertinent to the matches being run at the time of the broadcast. The elite few make the whole proceeding interesting by peppering commentary with interesting anecdotes of incidences that occurred on the floor outside of the cameras, and providing insight that maybe even the live audience members do not know.
So I was watching the Hongkong Open 2007 Badminton Super Series event (the website is crap, btw) for the first time since the tournament started, and had the pleasure of two gentlemen (native English speakers, I gather, and I didn’t really concentrate so I couldn’t place their accent. One of them may be Danish – I’ll explain why later) for live commentary. I don’t know their names and, since they never bothered to really introduce themselves semi-regularly for the duration, I didn’t care.
What I did care, though, was the quality of the commentary. From the onset it was clear these two were no Gillian Clark (the best badminton commentator, period). Before every match, when the players are moving onto the court and warming up, there was no witty repartee, no background on previous matches played (today was the semis), no nothing. Fine, I thought. I don’t need idle banter if prematch analysis isn’t available.
The real surprise was during the Lee Chong Wei and Kenneth Jonassen match. One of the chaps, who clearly didn’t come prepared, repeatedly called Chong Wei ‘Chong Chee Wei.’
“What makes Chong Chee Wei so deadly is the speed of his play.”
“Great point for Chong Chee Wei.”
“Chong Chee Wei is so handsome.” (No, I made that one up).
The point was, it was such an outward display of disrespect to the player on the court, and a disservice to all the viewers everywhere. If you’re going to be a commentator, and representing the action on court, you have the responsibility to know your stuff. You’re not a native Malaysian? Then spend the time to learn up the names at least! If you couldn’t pronounce the names accurately to the perfect pitch required that’s okay, but to mangle a name like that really shows how poor some commentators could be.
Hell, I’m neither a native English speaker nor a commentator, but I take the time to learn up the nuances of pronouncing names of Western players. Why shouldn’t you, as a commentator, take the trouble?
The irony is, they took the time to talk about how to pronounce Jonassen’s name! One of them (the one I presumed to be Danish, as the other commentator specifically asked this one how to pronounce Kenneth’s name) did clear up a long standing question on whether it was Peter-Gayd or Peter Ga-der (it’s Ga-der), and noted that the Danes do not pronounce the ‘h’ in Kenneth (therefore it’s Ken-net).
How conscientious of them.
See, the difference is, these commentators are *there* at the scene of the action. As journalists, they have access to the players, coaches, other members of the media. Why couldn’t they get a list of matches they will be commentating, walk up to the respective teams’ camps, talk to them and ask them to pronounce the names they couldn’t? Learn up phonetics notation (the ones you see in dictionaries), and make the effort! Gillian Clark is English, and never too proud to put in the effort to learn up the names – even the tough Chinese ones that give even me the creeps. That’s professionalism, boys.
If ever I become a sports commentator (that is to say, when I dream tonight), I vow to pronounce any name properly, and will not have any smartass blogger complain about my pronunciation in some silly blog somewhere.


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