Dan Roan is an extremely busy man. The BBC Sports Editor, based out of BBC Sport’s new base at MediaCity UK, is very rarely in Manchester. With a travel schedule that would rival a foreign correspondent in a field where stories could, and regularly do, break anywhere in the world, it seemed oddly appropriate that our first attempt at organising an interview found Roan in the middle of breaking the possible transfer of Ched Evans, in Oldham. After another couple of weeks of rearrangements through no fault of his own, I finally caught up with him last Sunday.
Born and raised in the Midlands, Roan was introduced to news reporting and journalism at an early age. “Well, when I was a kid my dad was a photographer and some of the work he did was kind of news photography, and so every now and again he’d get commissioned by the national newspapers to do a shoot in our part of the world. “So that, at an early age introduced me to the idea of news coverage albeit in a pictorial form.” This first insight into the world of journalism proved to be a type of catalyst for Roan, which alongside what he calls ‘a general passion for a lot of different things, whether it was politics or sport or crime or celebrity news’ proved to be an excellent armoury when he left home for University.
After meeting John Simpson while at Cambridge University and gaining work experience within the BBC, Roan joined the trainee scheme at the BBC and got a job as a producer. After a few years within the BBC, the need for a live show-reel became clear, and a shift in the direction of his career took place. In 2003, he joined Sky Sports News as a news correspondent, which was at the time still a small channel with his pedigree and contacts from his time with the BBC impressing Sky.
Now, six months after getting the job at the very top of the BBC’s Sports section, Roan relishes the challenges involved. “People look to you to provide quality coverage, but also balance, obviously accuracy and fairness, to interpret what various events mean and their significance. “Sport is such an all-encompassing subject matter. You can spend your entire life reading and learning and analysing, and it’s hard to do that while also balancing having a family and having a normal life, there’s no doubt about it, it’s challenging.”
What about the media’s pressure on football managers? Is it a legitimate criticism that there is too much scrutiny on the men who decide which 11 players go out onto the pitch on a Saturday? “Probably, but I don’t know if we should have all the blame. Ultimately it’s up to the clubs as to whether or not they bow to that pressure, they don’t have to. Sure, the media may make it harder sometimes, along with the fans who expect instant success and are very fickle, there is a real short-termism about football in particular as a sport”, Roan replied. Understandably defensive, Roan said, “Inevitably when it comes to sports news journalism and the media generally, we look for stories on a daily basis. Newspapers, websites, broadcasters do this to various degrees, one shouldn’t stereotype or generalise but I’m sure there are certain organisations that are guilty sometimes of speculating too much, creating stories when they’re not really there. I think that if there is a short-termist attitude towards management, it’s as much the fault of those who employ the managers as much as it is the fault of those who are covering the stories of those managers. Clearly it’s wrong that in that job the shelf life is so short, that doesn’t make much sense, but equally these are very well rewarded people and it’s a results business.”
“I think the clubs would like the media to be a lot less questioning, they’d like there to be a lot less scrutiny, as would those in power, as would FIFA, as would those who run sports globally, as would various owners of clubs who probably want to use the clubs for their own ends, but it’s absolutely vital that our media asks the tough questions.”
With FIFA’s next president to be decided this year, and the row over Qatar still ongoing, Roan’s insights into the incomprehensible world of FIFA and its head Sepp Blatter were astute. “I think it [the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar] is a farce, that four years on from the vote we still don’t know when that World Cup will be played; that is farcical. I’m not sure it’s farcical however to have it awarded to Qatar, football clubs around the world are very happy to go there to play mid-season winter break matches and go on training camps there, there are more and more sporting events being held in the Middle East.” He said: “It’s become, for many people, obvious evidence that the system is crooked, but I think it’s a lot more complicated than people think. I think that it’s too easy to simply say that it’s right or wrong, and many of those saying that it’s wrong maybe can be accused of hypocrisy.”
The hypocrisy in question, with Abu Dhabi’s current ownership of Manchester City and the vested interest within those countries who lost out to Qatar, Roan argues is prevalent throughout football and sport in general, and sometimes can mask the real problems that sport faces today. “What is clear is that the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar who are building the infrastructure, is a cause for huge concern, and I think it’s just the latest example of a sports event raising serious questions about the motivations about the host country and the way in which it’s doing business and whether we feel comfortable with these big global sports events going to places where that kind of thing goes on. They won’t be the first or the last nation to host a sporting event and be controversial.”
With the FIFA elections coming up in 2015, Roan is convinced that Sepp Blatter will win despite what Roan calls a ‘stench of corruption that’s hung over football’s world governing body for too long’. The challenges of Prince Ali of Jordan and Jerome Champagne alongside the most recent announcement that Luis Figo will challenge Blatter intrigue Roan. “You can look at it one of two ways, you can either say it’s a foregone conclusion, he’s been a good thing for large parts of the world even though to us he’s come to symbolise FIFA’s dysfunctionality, or you can see these challenges as quite interesting, the manifestation of growing unease and growing displeasure on the part of sponsors, Europe, fans, politicians.”
Roan, one of the few people to get the opportunity to put questions to men such as Sepp Blatter, relishes the challenges of interviewing the heads of sport, “I’ve always enjoyed interviewing people like Blatter and Bernie [Ecclestone], because for all of their controversies, these are intelligent individuals who I think quite enjoy a challenge. I’m more excited than worried by it, and my only concern going into those interviews is getting the balance right, you want to be courteous and respectful, but also challenging and robust in your questioning.”
Our chat came to an end in a similar place to where it began, with a discussion about the importance of Ched Evans’ failed move to Oldham; a move that Roan says was ‘all but done’.
“It’s a story that forces us as a society to take a long hard look at ourselves when it comes to how we feel about rehab and the extent to which we’re comfortable with offenders working in certain jobs. I think sport’s so important because these sorts of stories can seem like micro-stories, but they represent bigger themes that people are interested in whether they like sport or not.
“Morality and ethics are a really important part of sport. Sport is entertainment and it’s escapism, it’s fun and it’s drama, it’s triumph and inspiration, it’s wins and defeats, but at the same time it’s about big serious issues like justice, morality and ethics, integrity, crime, finance, politics, law, legacy and society. It’s a microcosm of society, and how we feel about our sport and sportspeople is a mirror about how we feel about other and bigger things, which is why it’s a unique and fantastic area to work in.”