By Megan McPhaden, U SPORTS International Correspondent
For the fourth consecutive Summer Universiade, Canada will be represented in the prestigious International University Sports Federation (FISU) Young Reporters’ Programme.
Fresh out of journalism school at Concordia University in Montreal, Salim Valji has already earned his first byline in the New York Times, covered the Presidential election in France, and landed a job with CBC Montreal. This August, he will join 11 other FISU Young Reporters from around the globe to cover the second-largest multi-sport event in the world.
The Young Reporters Programme (YRP) will give the Edmonton native his first taste of covering a multi-sport event.
“It’s a chance to develop more skills…to have the chance to interact with athletes from continents like Africa and Asia – you get to see how many different stories there are,” Valji said. “It’s a chance to improve as a reporter and as a journalist. It’s a chance to really discover a different part of the world that I haven’t gone to yet, and meet a dozen other young professionals who are similarly passionate about this field.”
Valji is no stranger to covering sports, having interned with the New York Rangers communications department in the summer of 2016. He also covered the Concordia Stingers for the campus newspaper The Link, and served as play-by-play broadcaster for the men’s and women’s basketball and hockey teams.
“My favourite sport is hockey,” he said. “I like seeing how players read the play. I like getting into the headspace of the coach or the manager.”
Several years ago, a chance encounter with current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock pushed him in the direction of sports journalism.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Valji joins a select group of Canadian YRP alumni who have undertaken the two-week intensive sports journalism program designed to put aspiring sports reporters through their paces. Participants take part in workshops led by prominent members of the broadcast and print media from around the world, publish daily stories covering the Universiade, and learn what it’s like to navigate the wonderful world of multi-sport competition.
The YRP has notably served as a launching pad for past Canadian alumni into successful sports journalism and communications careers. Kelcey Wright Johnson and Matthew Tidcombe are just two Canadian YRP alumni who have found success in the field. They share their experience and memories from past Universiades.
Kelcey Wright Johnson
A former U SPORTS women’s basketball player for the Ryerson Rams and Western Mustangs, Kelcey Wright Johnson has continued her love of the game from the sidelines. Today she serves as a play-by-play commentator and sideline reporter with the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) as well as the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA). Most recently, she has appeared as a reoccurring guest on NBA TV Canada.
Wright Johnson got her start in the industry at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia and has continued her partnership with FISU ever since.
“It's hard to pinpoint one moment that stands out the most to me because I've covered three Universiades now,” said Wright Johnson, who was on site for the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty in February. “Kazakhstan is most fresh in my mind, and a moment that stands out to me is when my boss told me that I (would be) commentating the Closing Ceremony by myself, broadcasting live to 81 countries, the day before I was to go on-air. It was nerve-wracking, but also so exciting.”
Her advice for incoming YRPs: “Don’t give up.”
“It's a tough industry, but if you're passionate about sports, it's so rewarding. I get to watch and talk about sports for a living, and it's amazing,” she said. “It's not an easy path, but if you take advantage of every opportunity that you can, and put yourself out there, opportunities will come.”
British Nova Scotian Matthew Tidcombe has transitioned from the tennis court to the communications field. Tidcombe has carved his career in the world of amateur sport as Rugby Canada’s Coordinator of Communications and Content. The St. Thomas University and Centennial College graduate was part of the second edition of the YRP in Kazan, Russia alongside Wright Johnson. He recalled his best memory from the 2013 FISU Summer Games.
“Being able to cover a multitude of different sports, often 3-4 in one day, at one of the world's biggest multi-sport events,” he said. “And writing stories based on the results and performance of athletes and teams.”
His advice for incoming YRPs and aspiring sports journalists: “Be multifunctional.”
“Be able to not just write, but be good at video and social media. It's essentially mandatory these days in sport journalism,” Tidcombe added.
“Be patient. It's very rare to be able to jump into that dream job. Build your experience by working in other sports, and getting experience at other organizations that in the long run will benefit you finally moving into that dream job.”
Canadian FISU Young Reporters’ Programme Alumni
Taipei City, Taiwan (2017) – Salim Valji (Concordia University)
Gwangju, Korea (2015) – Megan McPhaden (Western University/Carleton University)
Kazan, Russia (2013) – Kelcey Wright Johnson (Ryerson University/Western University) and Matthew Tidcombe (St. Thomas University)
Shenzhen, China (2011) – Kelsey Campbell (née Wingerak – Ryerson University) and Justin Fauteux (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Follow Salim Valji on Twitter @salimvalji. His stories covering the 2017 Summer Universiade will appear on FISU.net.
*Note: Megan McPhaden was selected as the 2015 FISU Young Reporter from Canada and is currently the U SPORTS International Correspondent.