Last season the bj-league, one of two rival professional leagues in Japan, removed The Japan Times’ accreditation. The ban looks set to be extended to the 2014/15 season. Emmet Ryan spoke with Ed Odeven of The Japan Times, author of the article that led to the bj-league’s decision, about the sanctions and The Japan Times’ response.
A story by journalist Ed Odeven in The Japan Times on a proposed defection by Kyoto Hannaryz from the bj-league to the rival NBL led to the bj-league withdrawing accreditation from the Times. The league demanded an apology specific concessions from the paper to re-claim its accreditation, concessions the paper was unwilling to make.
The bj-league is one of two top-tier leagues in Japan along with the NBL. The bj-league began as a 6 team competition and is expanding to 22 team league for the coming season. The Japan Times, an English language daily and website, has been barred from covering the league directly since Odeven’s article.
There now follows a question and answer session between this site and Odeven on the current state of proceedings and his position on the Kyoto story. Odeven’s answered our questions by email and have been edited for length.
BallinEurope: Were there any restrictions on The Japan Times prior to your story on Kyoto?
Ed Odeven: There were no official restrictions. Interview requests were ignored or rejected, even for glowingly positive feature ideas. The desire to produce thorough, thought-provoking stories just doesn’t resonate with so many in key positions within the bj-league, though.
BiE: Do you still expect Kyoto to defect?
EO: With the merger talk between the leagues, there’s another fly in the ointment, so to speak. It’s still a possibility, sure. We shall see. FIBA’s threats to suspend The Japan Basketball Association may change the focus for a team’s defection wishes. Last July, my longtime source, who had been spot-on for every story in which he had provided background info for, had spoken to the Kyoto Hannaryz’s team owner on several occasions just before that article was published, including about the team’s future plans. I’ve written more stories about this league than any other journalist in Japan since 2006, and one story the league didn’t like was the flame that lit the fire. However, the Hannaryz had threatened to not allow coverage of their team back in 2010, as relayed in a message by the league PR staff, which said some of Kyoto’s sponsors were upset by the story. Trying to please everybody all the time is impossible in life and in pro sports. The league needs to understand that — and accept it. This was after David Benoit was fired as head coach, and my interview with him that day resulted in a big story.
BiE What sanctions are currently imposed?
EO: I have no direct contact with team PR staffs and no formal way of getting access at games, practices, team functions. Games I attend, I must purchase a ticket for. I still write roundups of all games for that day’s web and (sometimes) print editions.
BiE: What is The Japan Times and your views and reactions to these restrictions?
EO: As stated in my long rant on Facebook and in the blog it’s a lose-lose situation. We have built up an audience of readers and we have been the authoritative source on the league since its inception. None of this is respected, recognized or appreciated. It’s a true disgrace, as my boss summarised, also see his closing commentary in this piece.
BiE: For the lay reader, what limits does this place on your capacity to carry out your job and for the paper to cover the bj-league?
EO: Getting photographs does become quite difficult, as our staff photographer also cannot have access at home games. This hurts our ability to get photos for our archives to use throughout the year, and the fact that the major news agencies (AP, Kyodo, Jiji, Reuters, AFP) do not prioritize this league or the sport in Japan makes it really hard to have access to photos. Many of the better photos we’ve used for gamers, features, notebooks, columns, etc have come from photographers who’ve submitted them to The JT upon request. Some of them have done so as a repeated favour.
Being seen at the gym, too, is important as players see that you are there for Ws and Ls and recognise that you are paying attention to their team and their league. By not being around all the press conferences, you can vanish from the scene in their eyes. But I do my best to keep an active presence on Facebook and Twitter to try and compensate for it to the best of my ability.
BiE: Have you been able to contact coaches/players in spite of the ban?
EO: There’s a handful of players and coaches that have defied the ban for phone or email responses to questions, and some have been fined for doing so. Others are afraid of doing so, as they’ve been ordered by their teams to not communicate with The Japan Times. There’s a high turnover of players and coaches and those with whom I have a good rapport to get comments from, especially via email, has decreased. Meeting players and coaches and talking to them face to face at games and practice is key to building relationships, and the fact that the league has grown from six teams to 22 for the coming season, mean it’s gotten harder every year with more and more new people to get to know.
But getting quotes in person – as opposed to via an online chat or email – is always preferred. There’s a chance to ask for an impromptu follow-up question or elaboration that is natural during an in-person interview. And there are so many players and coaches who I’ve not been able to get to interact with. I think many Japanese players and coaches feel intimidated by the league’s rule and declaration of the ban.