Part of my arrangement with Time Out included filling a listings page. This page was for upcoming sporting events in the city. How does all this benefit the reader? The reader buys the magazine, turns to the listings page, sees a preferred sport on a particular day and decides to attend the event. The reader might give the list a passing thought, and might, like me, have thought about how Time Out is virtually an advertisement for clubs and sports that might not have otherwise been paid attention.
But listings are tough, numbing work. I imagined clubs and sports bodies would have their schedules ready to fax to the next interested person. The difficulties posed in the search for a schedule have been revealing. I will explain in great detail why this is so. Consider this conversation:
(Sfx: Phone ringing.)
Voice: Police Gymkhana. Who is this?
Me: My name is Rahul Bhatia, calling for Time Out…
Voice: What do you want?
Me: I’m calling from Time Out magazine. I need your schedule of sporting events for December 2-15.
Me: Because there is a listings page…see, this listings page tells readers what’s going on in the city, you know, like a cricket match next week, or a women’s hockey game on the 20th. That kind of stuff. It’s to inform readers, so that more people visit the event.
Voice: Achcha. Give your number.
Me: My...what? What? Why?
Voice: Give number. To check.
Me: Check what?
Voice: To check.
Me: (Skepticism rules) You will call me back? Here it is…
We hang up. A while later the phone rings.
Voice: Yes Mr. Bhatia, you wanted our schedule…
Me: (Full of hope) Yes? Yes!
Voice: Mr Bhatia, I cannot give you. Is classified.
Me: What? Why is it classified?
Voice: We don’t give.
Me: So how will people know what’s happening at the club?
Voice: No one knows. We don’t tell.
Me: (Losing composure completely because it has been a long day filled with similar conversations) You’re mad. You’re completely ****ing mad. What the hell is classified about what you do? The Police Gym is on unfenced land at Marine Drive and you play matches under floodlights. People on passing trains can see your club, people can walk across your ground without restriction. I can come by to sleep on your grounds. What the hell is so private…so classified about that? It’s only sport!
Voice: We do not usually…
Me: Forget usually. Make an exception and tell me. Just this once. I won’t bother you again.
Voice: (After a pause) OK. I will tell you.
And so it goes. This is only one conversation, though it is one of the worst I’ve had. Calling up clubs, if you haven’t done it, is a bit like being next to the repetitive receptionist in the movie Office Space. It is quite possible that many potential spectators, faced with the obstacle of official hostility or, worse, official ignorance, might ignore sports they would have otherwise visited. In some clubs the sports head is known to nobody else. In some the schedules for the following week have yet to be drawn up.
But there is something else I’ve noticed. While the official apathy seems to permeate through most sports, there are individuals who become magnets through their passion for their sport. Athletics and billiards have such followers at their disposal. Motor sports seem keen to have more fans.
The rest…the rest just go on, from schedule to schedule. A call for information arouses several suspicions, and they will only proceed once they are convinced your intentions are not villainous. Exposure is not something they evidently require, the information has to be an exchange, rather than a given. I’ve given up doing the listings. There are too many people who need reassuring, too many who, once reassured, cannot reassure you about what they do. Sport needs new hands.
Update: Correction - Not 'new hands', but 'more capable hands'.