Argentine sports obsession spawns sports journalism schools

January 1, 2012

Some make the mistake of calling Juan Carlos Rennis’s school an academy, a word he associates with elitist institutions, blue blazers and snooty attitudes.

“We’re a technical school,” Rennis, rector for 17 years, said with conviction. “We take people and teach them to do a job.”

Rennis, a wiry man with a booming voice, wasn’t talking about plumbing or cabinet-making. But the job his 600 students are training for is one he considers of equal practical value — and far greater emotional significance — to the country: reporting the latest scores, trades, contract talks, back-office negotiations and other minutiae of the most Argentine of passions, sports.

In metropolitan Buenos Aires alone, there are about a dozen institutions like the 51-year-old Superior School of Sports Journalism that Rennis runs, each year churning out hundreds of sportswriters, play-by-play broadcasters, color commentators, camera operators, Web designers and sports analysts.

“I don’t know if there’s another place in the world that has so many of these schools,” said Roberto Bermudez, a teacher at the Superior School.


In the “Círculo de Periodistas Deportivos School,” students learn the finer points of covering sports, from doing the play-by-play for radio to writing news stories to televised color commentary. (Silvina Frydlewsky/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

In some ways, it’s easy to see why the “colegios deportivos,” or sports schools, thrive here, replacing university journalism departments for anyone who dreams of covering sports, particularly soccer, or futbol, as it is known. The country is sports-mad.

Take Buenos Aires: Although big U.S. metropolitan areas — New York, say, or Chicago — may boast of two football teams and two baseball clubs, the Argentine capital and its suburbs have a dozen first division soccer clubs, each with its own stadium.

That means fans, lots of them, who require clear reporting on the latest twist in a complex schedule of matches and championships that even an aficionado can have trouble keeping straight.

And it’s not just the games. The machinations of Argentine soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body here, the Argentine Football Federation, provide constant fodder for sports radio and TV and the front page of the city’s newspapers.

“Yes, the passion for soccer in Argentina is exaggerated,” said Miguel Angel Vicente, sports editor at the country’s biggest paper, Clarin. “It occupies a space that it shouldn’t. But this is the way we are, and hopefully one day, we’ll change and lower our temperature for this.”

Aside from mainstream media, the soccer teams themselves — at least those in the first division — each have two or more affiliated radio stations and Web sites providing blanket coverage. Many of those who work there refined their vocation at the sports schools.

Among the recent graduates of the Superior School is Adrian Michelena, 22, who is held up as the latest success story. Upon getting his diploma, he found himself overseas, covering the Argentina rugby team’s international matches for Clarin.

“The preparation they give you is really precise,” Michelena said of his training. “The rules, the techniques, the tactics and also the strategy. They teach you to know each one of the sports, the most minuscule of details.”

Although the focus is soccer, all sports that Argentines follow are given attention: basketball, polo, rugby, horse-racing, volleyball. Rennis said 22 sports are covered in 18 different classes.

“Nine of 10 graduates will work in soccer,” he said. “But maybe 10 percent can make a niche covering something else. What if some editor says, ‘Okay, who can go cover the South American bocce championship?’ ”

The school’s administrators point out that the curriculum goes well beyond games and jocks and scores. There are also classes in philosophy, linguistics and languages to round out the students during the three years, on average, they will spend at the school.

“This school has a program that’s very broad, very humanistic,” Bermudez said.

Still, on a recent night, most of the chatter in the classrooms was soccer-related.

Bermudez taught his class how to analyze a game on live television. In a packed basement classroom, Juan Pablo Peralta, a 32-year-old teacher, alumnus and member of a third-division soccer team, expounded on the intricacies of tactics. Next door, another group of students were putting on a mock radio show, highlighting scores and trades.

Paulo Stepper’s turn as mock host was clumsy, his teacher pointed out to him afterward.

But Stepper, 25, was undaunted. He explained that he had been a bored accounting student before he transferred to the sports school. He now dreams of one day recounting the day’s games for readers of a major newspaper.

“This is hard, yes,” he said. “But with practice, you can get over your fears and surprise yourself.”

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